30K and counting

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April 4, 2005 // UPDATED 1:53 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

At its Jan. 27 annual meeting, the Minneapolis Downtown Council proudly announced that Downtown was on the verge of having 30,000 residents - 29,350 as of that very week, to be precise.

For an area with 9,000 fewer residents just five years ago (according to Council statistician Maxfield Research), the almost-to-30,000 announcement provided emotional resonance akin to Jerry Lewis announcing a Labor Day telethon record.

Hitting 30K is important for more than psychological reasons. Area population drives many business relocations and openings, helping determine the services and amenities that current and future residents will enjoy.

Downtown Council President Sam Grabarski is already looking ahead to 40,000. When Downtown hits that figure, it might qualify as its own legislative district when lines are redrawn in 2011.

Said Grabarski, "That would mean [Downtown Minneapolis] would have a distinctly urban voice."

The 40,000 figure seems quite reachable, considering that there are 6,000 residential units now in the pipeline.

Still, a closer look at the hard number shows population estimates are just that: many facts, a bit of art and some definition.

Defining Downtown

To give the Downtown Council its headcount, Minneapolis-based Maxfield uses the 2000 census as a base, then adds on estimated population in housing units opened since then.

Company President Mary Bujold estimates each "owned unit" houses 1.8 people; rental units, 1.5. Most new Downtown units are owned, not rented, producing a blended 1.7-people-per-unit average that Grabarski calls "conservative."

However, there's a major question when figuring Downtown's population: what, exactly, is Downtown?

Many think of Downtown as the Central Business District and a bit more, perhaps up to the Mississippi, over to I-394, down to the Convention Center and to I-35W just by the Metrodome.

That excludes Loring Park, a good chunk of North Loop and some of Elliot Park. If you add those in, you're looking at a neat loop bounded by the river, I-35W, I-94 and Plymouth Avenue - precisely the area Maxfield uses (in purple in the map below).

Some - including Skyway News - don't stop there. We hop the river and include the Nicollet Island/East Bank neighborhood and the southern half of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, roughly between 2nd Avenue Northeast and the Stone Arch Bridge (on the map in orange and red, respectively.)

Add Nicollet Island/East Bank's 2000 Census population (828), to the Downtown Council's 29,350, and we can start the 30K Party right now. And that doesn't include anyone who's moved to the St. Anthony Main side of river since April 2000 - for example, the 100 or so people at the Village of St. Anthony, 150 NE 2nd St., which opened in January, or the 300 or so in the Stone Arch apartments, 601 SE Main St.

Grabarski is bullish enough to dream of 50K. He noted that 50,000 residents is the minimum amount needed to qualify as a federal "standard metropolitan statistical area," or SMSA.

Said Grabarski, "That's a huge benchmark of tracking that the feds apply."

Although it's unlikely the feds would carve out a

newly named SMSA in the middle of the existing one -

"Condominneapolis," anyone? - Grabarski said, "Imagine the economic and political firepower of a central business district that size."

Who's moving in?

According to Downtown Council President Deb Hopp, the demographics include two major groups - young professionals and empty nesters - with one common denominator: neither group with kids.

Maxfield's Bujold agreed in part. "Typically, we get young people, 25-35 [years old]," she said, adding "almost no children."

Many of Downtown's new residents are coming from Minneapolis and Hennepin County neighborhoods, especially west suburban communities as far out as Wayzata, Hopp said.

With most new condominiums ranging from $200,000 to the million-dollar range, it stands to reason that the Downtown median income will rise with the skyline.

Even though it is already a half-decade out of date, the 2000 Census shows the beginning of the trend.

The city just released 2000 household income breakdowns by neighborhood. A key measure of prosperity is median household income.

In four of five neighborhoods covered by Skyway News, inflation-adjusted median income rose, in some cases substantially.

  • Loring Park, up 40 percent.

  • Elliot Park, up 17 percent.

  • Downtown West (which makes up almost all of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association), up 9 percent.

  • North Loop, up 2 percent.

Only the Nicollet Island/East Bank neighborhood saw a declining median income - 20 percent, although the area still ranked fourth among 81 Minneapolis neighborhoods for average household earnings.

City Planner Jeff Snyder said that the

numbers released this month are just raw data;

the census department is compiling reports analyzing the data for each neighborhood, to be released in the coming months.

A contrasting Census stat indicated a growing rich/poor divide, at least as of 2000: Downtown neighborhoods with the fastest-rising median income also showed the biggest rise in percentage of families below the poverty line (a line already adjusted for inflation).

In 2000, 16 percent of 890 Loring Park

families were below the poverty line; in 1990,

8 percent of 938 families were.

In Elliot Park, the figures were 23 percent in 1990 (of 539 families) and 33 percent in 2000 (of 520 families).

For individuals in poverty, Loring Park showed a 2 percent decline (from 19 percent to 17 percent), while the Elliot Park rate rose from 33 percent to 38 percent.

Meanwhile, just four of 210 families in Nicollet Island/East Bank were in poverty in 2000; North Loop went zero-for-110.

You're number 30,000!

What is certain is that Downtown will surpass the big Three-Oh this year, by the Downtown Council's figures. Grabarski said that his group would make an announcement when the people-ticker turns over.

"It'll come down to the last 50 units sold," he said, imagining an actual buyer chosen ceremoniously as Downtown's 30,000th resident.

In the eyes of developer Kit Richardson, the boom could go on for quite a while. Asked recently at a Nicollet Island/East Bank Neighborhood Association meeting when the city will be overbuilt, Richardson - who has the area's biggest drawing-board project, the 1,000-plus unit Pillsbury "A" Mill, going through city approvals - said that projects are selling at a "good, comfortable rate," driven by the baby-boom market currently comprised of 41- to 59-year-olds.

If you figure younger boomers will become empty nesters for the next 12 to 15 years (Richardson's estimate), what comes next?

A senior housing boom?

Somebody's probably crunching those numbers right now.