From Taylor Swift to the Timberwolves, events propel downtown Minneapolis to top of recent recovery rankings

According to cell phone location data, the rebound in downtown Minneapolis in the last year was the best in North America.

MINNEAPOLIS — Much has been said about the post-pandemic recovery in downtown Minneapolis, but in the last year our cell phone data has quietly indicated a major rebound in entertainment and event traffic.

“Minneapolis has done a pretty rapid comeback just this year,” said Karen Chapple, director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto.

For the past several years, the School of Cities has compared the post-pandemic recovery of more than 60 North American cities by tracking cell phone location data.

The most recent downtown recovery trends update, which tracked the cell phone data from March 2023 to March of 2024, found that downtown Minneapolis topped the list. Visits grew by 45%, which was ten percent more than Chicago, the next closest U.S. City.

Chapple: “Most cities hovered around a five to ten percent increase in visits.”

Kent Erdahl: “It looks like the numbers (in Minneapolis) really took off in late June (2023). At that time we had our Taylor Swift effect.”

Chapple: “Oh fantastic. That’s so interesting to hear. We’re actually going to do a Taylor Swift study where we’re going to look at multiple cities and the Taylor Swift effect, because we think this actually helped several cities come back last year during the Eras Tour.”

The comeback in Minneapolis continued through much of July thanks – in part – to other big events like the Taste of Minnesota Festival and Minneapolis Aquatennial, but Chapple says summer isn’t what really set Minneapolis apart.

“Minneapolis continued on a positive trajectory through the fall and winter,” she said. “Can we attribute that to the Timberwolves?”

The wolves resurgence has certainly attracted a bigger pack of visitors, but the mild winter and busy concert and convention calendar likely didn’t hurt either.

Another factor working in the favor of Minneapolis? It started on a low note. The previous update from 2023, found that Minneapolis ranked near the very bottom of the recovery rankings.

Erdahl: “It certainly looked like Minneapolis had the most room to grow.”

Chapple: “Oh, absolutely, you were in the bottom three. It’s not like you’re totally recovered, it’s just that Minneapolis is on the upswing.”

If you look closer at other data provided by the School of Cities, you begin to see what’s been holding the city back. While night and weekend traffic is back near pre-pandemic levels, visits during weekday working hours are still less than half of what they were.

“So the question then becomes, how do you build on that?” said Jon Commers, founder of Visible City. “Adding a range of other daytime activities that will continue to kind of help build out this 24/7, range of options in the downtowns, will be key.”

To get a better idea of where to start, Visible City, teamed up with a company called Placer to map cell phone data in even greater detail within downtown Minneapolis. The maps show that hotspots for visits in 2019, have shifted to other areas in 2023, and he says that’s something developers and retailers can build on.

“There’s no such thing as a fully built city, and the reality is that cities, in a physical way, as well as a social way, are always in the business of of reinvention,” Commers said.

“Maybe it’s working more as a place for social connection than for work these days,” Chapple said.

Cell phone trends aren’t the only thing driving the urgency for downtown reinvention, according to the latest real estate data, more than 30% of downtown offices remain vacant. That is already having an impact on property values that impact the tax base for the city, county and the entire state.

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