2004: Downtown's Year in Review

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December 20, 2004 // UPDATED 4:56 pm - April 25, 2007
By: David Brauer, Photos by Rich Ryan
David Brauer, Photos by Rich Ryan

Smoking: banned. Condos: taller. Light rail: here.

It could justifiably be called Downtown's Year of Big Infrastructure; 2004 was the year a 39-story condo tower (and a flock of 20-somethings) rose, a new Guthrie Theater and Central Library appeared -- and, oh yeah, the train returned to Downtown.

What follows are the highlights, and a few lowlights, of the past 12 months.

Big chief

In January, the Minneapolis City Council approves Bill McManus to succeed Robert Olson as the city's Police Chief. McManus -- a blunter sort than his predecessor, who was known as "Smilin' Bob" -- presides over a dwindling police force, promising that more effective management and crime-targeting will maintain public safety.

Look! In the sky!

The 39-story Carlyle, which will be the city's tallest condo tower when it opens fall 2006, begins rising from a pit near the Milwaukee Road Depot. It won't hold the distinction long, however, if a 48-story tower announced for 10th & Nicollet Mall secures financing.

Speaking out about homelessness

A district judge rules the city's law against begging is unconstitutional because it criminalizes speech, not behavior. The city modifies the law so that aggressive, threatening or harassing behavior is targeted.

In February, 38-year-old Robin Sam, a person who was homeless, burns to death in his tent in front of passersby on Downtown's fringes. Sam's death further inspires advocates who want to repeal city laws against camping outdoors. City Council action may come in 2005.


In a sign that the condo market is much hotter than the rental market, new RiverWest owner Chip Johnson announces that the 416-unit building's apartments will be converted to for-sale properties. The 401 S. 1st St. conversion is Downtown's biggest.

Bus stop

A late-winter Metro Transit strike stops bus service, forcing many commuters to carpool, bike, walk -- or pay for expensive cab rides. Although the strike threat delays light-rail transit's debut by a few months, a predicted Downtown parking crisis never emerges.

Our bags overfloweth

Years of lusting after a major Downtown grocery store pay off in November when the area gives birth to twin Lunds -- one at 12th & Harmon in Loring Park and the other at 3rd & University in the Nicollet Island/East Bank neighborhood. "You'll get to know your neighbors," said Lunds President Tres Lunds of the narrow aisles in the chain's tightly packed urban locales.

Can't smoke 'em if you got 'em

Over the objections of many Downtown clubs and restaurants, the City Council bans smoking in Minneapolis bars and restaurants in a July vote. The blue haze lifts indoors -- and probably increases outdoors -- on March 31, 2005.

Candid cameras

Downtown's SafeZone cameras finally debut in October, allowing the police to watch Downtown streets from the safety of their own precinct. Civil libertarians fear the worst, but in the first few, weeks no scandals emerge. The camera craze continues when the city announces plans to install photoCop traffic cameras in '05 that will automatically ticket anyone running a red light.

Books and plays

The riverfront Guthrie Theater facade changes from yellow to midnight blue and its steel superstructure rises dramatically near the river. Highlight: the "skyway to nowhere" stretching toward the Mississippi.

The new Downtown Library also takes shape, with its unique etched-glass skin beginning to show. A downer: the library's planetarium remains on hold. Better luck in '05.

Haberdasher helper

Target Corp. announces a tightening of their dress code after employees take Casual Fridays too far. The move to dresses and suits hits employee pocketbooks, but it's a boon for Downtown clothiers.

May we have this deal?

In June, Target Corp. sells Marshall Field's, including the flagship Downtown locale, to St. Louis-based May Department Stores Co. for $3.24 billion. Shoppers -- still miffed about the name change from Dayton's -- appear unfazed.

Turning off the spigot

Evidence of Downtown's residential muscle is shown in May, when the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board rejects a proposal to build a small hydroelectric plant near the Mill Ruins. The plan, by Crown Hydro LLC, is supported by some environmentalists but rejected by many residents of the area's new lofts. Crown Hydro holds out some hope the project can be resurrected, but as of now, that seems unlikely.

Want to buy a landmark?

In a deal whose size surprises local observers, the IDS Center is sold for $225 million to Chicago-based John Buck Co. The higher-than-expected price seems to be good news for long-term health of the Downtown office market despite recent struggles. Still, vacancy rates topping 20 percent remain common in the urban core.

Topless for you . . . but not you

Downtown's flesh industry goes one-for-two: the city rejects Trocadores, a proposed topless bar in North Loop because it's too close to residents. Later in the year, a new "burlesque" bar, the Seville, opens at 7th Street & 2nd Avenue North. Safely tucked between Target Center and a big parking ramp, neighbors and even some city officials say the Seville will actually clean up the neighborhood. One Loring Park businessman quoted in the Star Tribune disagrees vehemently, noting he left North Loop to get away from Sex World, only to find toplessness moving south. (Avert your eyes from the park, sir!)

Walls schmalls

In February, the Walker Art Center closes for a year-long expansion. However, its "Walker Without Walls" program places the most refreshing and eye-catching billboards Downtown atop 1115 Hennepin Ave. S.: Yoko Ono's "Imagine Peace"; Frank Gaard's multicolored men; Laylah Ali's masked superhero and Mathew Barney's abstract commentary on deforestation, which stays until Jan. 15. (Some of the stretchy billboards have been made into tote and messenger bags, see Retail, page 10).

Fringe: now mainstream?

August's Fringe Festival is bigger than ever with 902 performances of 175 shows at 24 venues, including the Historic Hennepin Theaters Downtown.

Best baton

Charismatic Osma Vanska, music director of The Minnesota Orchestra, is named Conductor of the Year by "Musical America," classical music's top trade magazine, in December.

Best buy

St. Thomas' Downtown campus will soon be home to Schulze Hall, for which ground was broken this summer. The $22 million building -- named after major donor and Best Buy Executive Richard Schulze -- will house St. Thomas' School of Entrepreneurship beginning next fall.


Ribfest (at least in Minneapolis)

Hey City Theater

"Tony 'N' Tina's Wedding"

Downtown Open School

Saks Fifth Avenue

Snyder's in Block E (we hardly knew ye)

Sun's for Rock 'n' Roll People

Which of these things is not like the others?

In October, the Twins make the playoffs for the third straight year -- and get beat by the Yankees in the first round for the second year in a row. Timberwolves again make the NBA playoffs in April -- but this time they ignite local fans by winning their first two playoff series ever before succumbing to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Vikes? A choke in Arizona snuffs a 2004 post-season run, and the verdict on this year's regular season -- and coach Mike Tice's future -- won't be known until year's end.

Choo'd out

After years of fighting, false starts and accusations of fiscal calamity, light-rail transit (left) opens in April, connecting Downtown to Ft. Snelling; in December, the line is extended to the airport and the Mall of America. Commuters seem eager, sports fans flock and Taxpayer League complaints are muted. The loudest objections come from South Minneapolitans forced to put up with transit users parking in their neighborhoods and long delays getting to Hiawatha Avenue.

Who's in First?

The venerable music club First Avenue closes in November over an ownership feud. After much-justified wailing and gnashing of teeth, the 701 1st Ave. N. venue reopens weeks later. Former Manager Steve McClellan (left), fired in the summer, returns as part-owner (though without access to the drink tickets!). The club hopes the "you'll miss us when we're gone" factor can save the day.

Solera squeeze?

Restaurateur David Fhima (left) announces a splashy two-story Latin nightclub/Mediterranean

restaurant at 7th & Hennepin. Fhima's project will fill the Stimson Building, which wraps around the recently renovated Pantages Theater.

Kerry territory

Even though President Bush wins re-election, Downtown votes overwhelmingly

for Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race. Kerry racks up 73 percent of Downtown's votes compared to 27 percent for Republican Bush.

However, Elliot Park's precinct 7-10 is the only one in the city Republicans win: Bush narrowly tops Kerry 1,172-1,134. Why? It is home to North Central University, an Assemblies of God school.

Elliot Park condo boom

Hot on the heels of Grant Park's August opening, other Elliot Park condo towers receive the city's OK, including the 26-story Skyscape (left) and 20-story Fifth Avenue Gateway. They'll arrive in 2006 or 2007, boosting the average earnings of what has been Downtown's lowest-income neighborhood.

Pee wee's big adventure

In January, the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association makes national news when it pledges $10,000 to "Go before you go" -- a publicity campaign to get bargoers to relieve themselves in indoor restrooms instead of on city streets.

Neighborhood leaders continue to work on the campaign with Downtown bar owners. Meanwhile, public urinators began to face stiffer penalties in 2004. Once a $50-$75 criminal tag, those caught peeing in public now face $80 civil tickets. Tickets double and triple for subsequent offenses -- and the city can sic collection agents on nonpayers.

A few great alterna-something music shows:

  • The Pixies open their reunion tour at the Fine Line (April)

  • The Bad Plus at the Walker Art Center (May)

  • Nick Lowe (left) at the Fine Line (August)

  • Wilco at the Orpheum (November)

  • Curtiss A's annual John Lennon show, reminding everyone why First Avenue is irreplaceable (December)

    Burnin' down the house

    Actor Matt Dillon (below) hits Downtown in the summer, where his new movie "Factotum" is being filmed. The production stages a mock fire at the vacant Fairmont Hotel at 9th & Hennepin (left). Later in the year, it's announced that the Fairmont and ProColor building next door will become the site of a boutique hotel, the Chambers, in 2006.