A note of appreciation for the DID

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November 8, 2010
By: Tom Hoch
Tom Hoch
It’s the time of year again to set aside skepticism, embrace a bit of feel-good reflection and seize the impetus to count blessings. What works on a personal level, also has relevance for the city. For Minneapolis, one of the most exciting things to be thankful for over the past year plus, is the creation and operation of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District.

The DID, as it’s known, is a business-financed and operated entity that is making our urban center cleaner, greener and safer. Where we once experienced blowing trash, rusty street furniture and dilapidated news boxes, we now have a high level of consistent maintenance, focal points of beauty and a general feeling that our city is being nurtured.  Those lime green-shirted ambassadors have helped foster a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for workers, residents and visitors alike, reinforcing a new sense of order and caring on our streets. As a result, I see our city returning to its role as a favorite gathering place for our metro-wide community; a neighborhood to which everyone can lay claim. For new and long-time city residents and visitors, this is truly an achievement.

As William Blake wrote, “The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” In the case of Downtown, by recognizing and supporting our successes we can achieve even more. There’s no single, simple formula for building a community and what works in one locale might not translate to another. Regional or cultural differences, climate, infrastructure, history and other elements are part of what creates a homegrown or “organic” feel that makes people want to come together and share mutual experiences. While planning for a cleaner, greener and safer city center is very valuable, what else can we be doing to make sure this gathering place has a long, healthy and viable future?

One of the facets we still need to consider is how we use our public spaces — especially our sidewalks and roadways. What is the experience of those who walk and drive Downtown?

These places can be more than clean, pretty and safe, they can also be interesting and, yes perhaps, inspirational. To borrow words from Jean Nidetch, “It’s choice — not chance — that determines your destiny.”

For example, one of the choices Hennepin Theatre Trust made last year was to initiate a project which would not only create an interesting destination for pedestrians, but also an inspiring one. Our Minnesota Walk of Fame, which will ultimately span five blocks from 5th to 10th Streets on Hennepin, celebrates and thanks those Minnesotans who have achieved broad success in the entertainment industry. We recognize these individuals by placing “stars” in the sidewalk bearing their names and by holding tribute events for each of them. The first three stars installed along Hennepin Avenue at 8th Street celebrate Marion Ross (of Happy Days fame), Tippi Hedren (of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”) and Loni Anderson (of the WKRP Cincinnati sitcom). Each of these Minnesotans has achieved notoriety for their work well beyond our borders.

We are additionally grateful that there are so many talented native Minnesotans to honor and to SONY, which recently stepped forward to allow us to recognize more of them. Last month, we celebrated Bob Dylan, the next inductee in the Walk of Fame, at an event at The Dakota Jazz Club. Dylan, with a career spanning more than 50 years, may well be the singular, most enduring singer/songwriter of our time. In November, we’ll also recognize Vince Vaugh at the State Theatre and later, none other than the great Judy Garland along with actors Jessica Lange and James Arness. These five stars will be installed at one time along Hennepin Avenue next spring. We’ll provide more details as they become available  at
HennepinTheatreTrust.org.

By publicly celebrating the accomplishments of this state’s extraordinary people, one of our goals is to inspire people to drive Downtown, take a stroll down Hennepin Avenue and check out the stars. At the same time, we hope to provide an example to aspiring young songwriters, musicians and actors of how home-grown talent can achieve national and international fame and fortune. Maybe one or more of them will make the conscious choice to go from being a pedestrian to an active community participant and embrace the possibility of what they can achieve. Albert Schweitzer writes, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Now that is a plentiful harvest.

Tom Hoch is president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages Theatres.