4 min read February 2023 — Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis spoke with Invest: about the structural changes made in 2022 to position the city for a bright future, including but not limited to priorities in affordable housing, economic inclusion, sustainability, government efficiency and community safety.
Where do you feel you made the most progress in 2022?
For the first time in nearly 100 years, the City of Minneapolis has a new government structure. The new structure, first adopted by voters in 2021, will provide efficient, effective, and equitable government services for generations to come. Before, we had a very confusing structure where there was not a clear executive in charge. Basically, the entire city administration had 14 bosses, made up of 13 city council members and a mayor. When a difficult decision came up and all department heads needed to be given instructions immediately, their first question was always, “What is the council going to say?” I, as mayor, was then stuck navigating a complex political system. That structure did not work, and it was not productive for the residents of our city.
Through a charter amendment vote, our community changed the City Charter so that we have a clear executive in the mayor and a clear legislative body with the city council. From a business standpoint, Minneapolis will see major benefits. We will be able to operationalize a government on a daily basis and make decisions in real time. We will be able to chart a very clear course without 14 cooks in the kitchen. This new structure was strongly supported by the business community and is something I know will bear fruit in years to come. Without a doubt, that was the preeminent move we made in 2022.
We had a number of other focuses in 2022, including recovering and rebounding following the pandemic and improving community safety. We are seeing significant positive changes, which should catch the eye of any smart investor. If you look at trends in terms of crime, more so than in other cities similar in size, we are trending downward and seeing violent crime decrease significantly. We are moving in the right direction and at the same time, the city is coming alive again. New businesses are popping up and we’re seeing coordination between sectors we haven’t seen before. Generally speaking, pre-pandemic, when a business opened, they were opening by itself. Now, everyone is either coming back at the same time or opening for the first time alongside those reopening. That has spurred cooperation, which is a positive attribute of the city.
We have also created a Commercial Property Development Fund, which enables entrepreneurs, especially those of color, to own not just their business, but the underlying real estate so they can gain equity. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in this fund to help reignite our economy. The economic benefits that happen in Minneapolis do not just impact our city – they impact the entire state of Minnesota.
How is mixed-use development creating a difference in the city?
The areas we see succeeding have a beautiful diversity of use throughout the neighborhood itself. If you go to the North Loop neighborhood, you will see a flourishing and vibrant part of our city that has thrived even throughout the pandemic. Its success is because of the diversity in commercial, residential, retail, restaurant, and entertainment industries – and having it all in one neighborhood. We divorced ourselves from that old zoning practice where people live, work, and play in separate places. In the North Loop, they are all integrated, and it works. There’s also a beautiful inflow and outflow of people in the space, which helps with the safety and vibrancy of the area. You have a dynamic where people want to both work here — and live here. I believe this model can be mimicked in other cities and can be successful anywhere.
What industries are strong in Minneapolis, and what opportunities exist to grow the city?
We are a city that has been growing like crazy and that has continued to grow, even in tough times. The latest Census numbers showed nearly a 50,000-person growth in the last 10 years. Our building permits have continued to trend upward and it’s a very good investment because Minneapolis continues to be a secret story of success no matter what. For the first time in a few years, I can say that things are going exceedingly well across all industries.
What are your priorities for the near term?
The two overarching priorities, inclusive of everything we do, are recovery and safety. Within that, we are focusing on affordable housing, economic inclusion, community safety, climate and sustainability, and efficiency in our government structure. We spent a lot of time on these items in 2022 and we will continue to do so in 2023.
In terms of affordable housing, we are producing it at record levels. Multifamily housing unit permits for new construction are up 92% year over year in Minneapolis. When I first took office, we invested between three to four times the previous record of funding, resulting in about five times the previous annual production of affordable housing. If you give people a foundation from which they can rise, they will. A home is the core of that foundation.
Regarding economic inclusion, we are expanding our Commercial Property Development Fund which is geared toward our BIPOC business owners to insure they can own their businesses and the underlying real estate. We don’t want their success to be negatively affected by rising rent costs or to have them displaced from their neighborhood. Equity is about having a say in decisions and long-term, generational wealth will be achieved here as a result.
In the area of community safety, we have worked very hard to set up a comprehensive approach to public safety. We have combined a police response with an array of other options, from mental health response to a social worker’s skill set being matched to a unique event happening in the field. We created the new Office of Community Safety in 2022, which is led by our first Community Safer Commissioner Cedric Alexander. We also hired a new police chief for the Minneapolis Police Department, Brian O’Hara, who is focused on building community trust, increasing police accountability, and making our community a safe place for all.
Sustainability is also a top priority for the years ahead. It has worldwide importance with local urgency because a lot of the foundational climate work happens in cities. We have aggressive goals to get to 100% clean and renewable energy in our City enterprise, as well as getting to 100% clean and renewable electricity in our city by 2030. We are making major investments to see the change that is crucial to our success, including adding 70 new EV charging stations throughout the Twin Cities, which increases public charging capacity by 50%.
Finally, building an efficient, effective, and equitable government structure is – and will be – part of our priority list for years to come. The new government structure is in place as of late 2022. Now, the work to continue to build it out for generations to come is on our plate — and we are ready to work.
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