More retail, varied restaurants and a more foot-friendly city
Mayor R.T. Rybak met with Downtown Journal reporter Sarah McKenzie recently to discuss his resolutions for Downtown in 2006. Besides focusing on attracting retailers, such as Best Buy, to Nicollet Mall, Rybak said he’d like to push for a friendlier pedestrian environment on Washington Avenue.
DTJ: What’s on your agenda for Downtown this year?
Rybak: We have the chance to create an unparalled retail experience Downtown that serves the high fashion needs of some traditional Main Streets, but also the basic everyday needs of the 30,000 people that live here.
If you combine that with an incredibly vibrant Downtown arts scene, restaurants and nightlife, you can create an unparalleled experience.
This is different than merchandizing a shopping mall because it’s an urban experience, a place where you can shop and eat and go to a concert or a play, dance or hear music — almost all of it within walking distance.
To pull that off we can’t try to imitate anywhere else — because it’s not done as well as Minneapolis is going to do it over the next few years. I’m especially pleased to have some great partners on this, starting with Frank Guzzetta, who has been a gift to the cities when he came in to lead Macy’s North.
The night before my first conversation with him, I was kind of rehearsing lines in my head about how I was going to talk to this out-of-town executive about why Downtown matters, and I sat down and he pretty much gave a better lecture to me than I could have given to him about the importance of Downtown.
He’s going to be a great asset in this community. He helped us make the pitch to Best Buy. He wants to be involved in pitches to other retailers. He had been very involved in this work in downtown Washington, which has seen a tremendous retail revitalization. I couldn’t be happier to have a partner with that level of innovation and stature who is going to help us.
DTJ: Beyond Best Buy, what other retail would you like to see?
Rybak: We want to create an environment that is a great shopping experience that you can’t duplicate elsewhere. So along with the Best Buys, the Macy’s and Targets, you want one-of-a-kind retailers like Hubert White. You want high fashion, like Neiman Marcus, Saks and Polo, and we especially need to add more unique, one-of-a-kind retailers — quirky, unique stores, ideally [owned and operated] by local entrepreneurs so that you can mix your shopping experience.
DTJ: What about the City Center vacancies?
Rybak: Doesn’t bother me a bit. The closing of chain restaurants Downtown illustrates that this market wants unique experiences. It comes at a period of time where there are tremendous unique, one-of-a-kind restaurants opening up. This has proven once again that a Masa, or a Belle Vie, or a Solera or Mission succeeds when a [TGI] Friday’s doesn’t.
DTJ: Besides retail, what else would you like to see for Downtown this year?
Rybak: I’m very interested in improving the pedestrian experience so that we can create excitement just in walking down the street. I just got back from Chicago where they have made the remarkable Millennium Park, which is a wonderful park. But I didn’t come back thinking we needed to duplicate that here.
I instead thought that we need to think about our open spaces being connections — so that the walk between the Walker Sculpture Garden to Loring Park, up the Loring Greenway, down to a revitalized Nicollet Mall, past a reenergized Peavey Plaza in front of Orchestra Hall, down to connections to the river, and then Washington Avenue, which I want to see reborn as Washington Boulevard.
I see Washington Avenue as having great potential as becoming our next grand boulevard — where the connection between the university, the Guthrie, the Center for Books Arts, Mill City Museum, MacPhail, Library, Planetarium, then into the North Loop has unparalled experiences along the street, which is why I found funds to plant trees there.
Eventually, I think Washington Avenue, a functional street that’s not that pleasant, can become Washington Boulevard — a grand experience connecting University, Downtown, the North Loop and all the cultural experiences along it.
Whenever have you ever said to someone who is visiting, ‘Hey, take a walk down Washington Avenue’? Yet in a couple years, this should be a great experience.
As a mayor, one of my jobs is to help collect these visions, paint a larger picture and then bring these parties together.
I also hope that we can use the openings of the library and the Guthrie to create new momentum for the Planetarium, which will be the next great civic project and the best family attraction Downtown has had possibility in its history.
We’re just now beginning that capital campaign, and that’s going to take a lot of my focus this year.