Can Downtown Businesses Take Back Nicollet Mall?

It’s no secret downtown Minneapolis was in decline due to violent crime and disorder before Covid-19 turned the business district into a ghost town. Riots and looting following George Floyd’s death in police custody and other incidents further cemented the center city’s image as a no-go zone, not only after dark but in broad daylight, as well.

With the Minneapolis City Council in favor of defunding the already depleted police force, remaining downtown businesses have come to the realization they will need to lead the effort to restore public safety and confidence.

It will come as a surprise only to the city council that the business leaders’ plan starts with more cops on the streets, according to the Star Tribune.

The greater police presence is one of several tactics businesses are using to restore a sense of safety on the street, said Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District. Reported incidents are up on the street this year, Cramer said, including “large crowds of young adults; increased, very visible homelessness and people with obvious intoxication.”

“The hope is to calm things down on Nicollet and restore a sense of confidence about the city’s main business street,” he said Thursday. “People have been lacking in confidence … and we have to get it back.”

It’s telling that increased presence of law enforcement in Minneapolis now means officers out patrolling the mall every other day and night or so.

“It is as old as policing to saturate an area with a lot of police officers and give them the orders to engage people and look for criminals,” [First Precinct Patrol Lt. Mark] Klukow said.

They have looked for and arrested suspects involved in August’s looting almost every night, Klukow said. Beat officers, he said, recognize and interact with the people they see on the street every day.

“They’re not necessarily leaving. They are doing the things that bother other folks less,” he said.

Despite that improvement, the city councilor who represents the area, Steve Fletcher, not only refuses to give credit where it’s due but continues to undermine law enforcement.

“We know that there are a huge number of people in our community who feel less safe when they see a big police presence, and who feel less invited,” he said. “In the meantime, we are responding with the imperfect tools we have as we try to build a better system together.”

No wonder downtown leaders have taken the additional step of hiring outside groups at considerable expense to help maintain order and keep an eye on the city’s main business thoroughfare. The last thing they can afford is to count on city hall.