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The COVID-19 pandemic devastated downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota's economic engine. Businesses have closed, jobs have been lost and the city has become a ghost town. If immediate action isn't taken, the tax base will spiral downward, and the state's economy will eventually take a devastating hit.

The biggest challenge downtown faces is a misperception of violent crime and that it is not safe, with some suburban and rural residents, along with convention and event organizers from around the country, convinced that Minneapolis is a violent war zone and that no one is safe to visit. Events like Holidazzle, Rock the Garden and now the Basilica Block Party are no longer happening downtown, and nobody has any significant actions in the works to turn the tide and activate downtown on a regular and ongoing basis.

Safety in many ways comes through activation, and spaces are safer when people are present and using those spaces. If we don't push for change or make some immediate plans to activate downtown as a destination, we will not be able to change this misperception of safety. The downtown core will continue to spiral downward, and many businesses and amenities will continue struggling and closing.

I've participated in countless conversations about public safety, and there is a lot of talk about the impacts of office workers working remotely. Still, I don't see anyone talking about the correlation. Office workers returning downtown is an invaluable public safety strategy nobody seems to be talking about. The increased traffic downtown and on our transit systems with the return of office workers would make them much safer, and one way we can begin to change the narrative and correct the nationwide misperception that downtown Minneapolis is dangerous and unsafe.

There are many other benefits to having employees return to the office. Most notably, it would help boost the local economy, improve employee morale and productivity, and allow employees to collaborate with colleagues, learn from each other and build relationships. The No. 1 benefit remains activating transit and the downtown core to improve public safety.

Target Corp. has been pressured to bring its workers back downtown; it should be unthinkable that we would expect a corporation to change policies we are unwilling to change in the public sector. Hennepin Healthcare has the most office workers downtown, and Hennepin County has the third-most, with more than 13,000 employees combined. It does not seem like the conversation is even happening within Hennepin County to bring its staff back to the office.

Hennepin County spent $55 million to purchase the 17-story Thrivent Financial office tower, plus the costs of making it suit the county's needs and relocating thousands of workers. It now sits largely empty. The county now has a responsibility to use those facilities and should take this opportunity to lead by example. It can set the tone, showing other large employers the benefits of returning their workforces. The county must require a 100% return to the office for all employees, and as the public, we need to demand it.

Sam Turner is a Minneapolis resident and small-business owner.