The irony of being a travel writer is I do not like to read travel guides and plan out my itinerary before going to a city in the USA. I prefer to arrive and simply get a feel for the place. I am an impressionist traveler.
As a school age kid growing up in different places as our family moved nearly every year to a new military base, I did not learn about the place I lived by reading information before I arrived. I primarily gathered information by experiencing the place on my feet or bicycle. Wandering around is my nature.
When it comes to describing a place, I simply share what I see and experience with photos and notes on the impressions left on me. My travel descriptions are not the typical sightseeing guide. Instead, my take on Minneapolis is a my-seeing guide.
Nicollet Mall, Downtown Minneapolis
In a phone conversation with my mother, she asked me what the economic engine is for Minneapolis. Aside from the musician Prince and two Oscar nominated Swedish films I saw 40 years ago, The Emigrants (1971) and The New Land (1972) with Liv Ullman, my knowledge base of Minneapolis and Minnesota was sparse.
Looking out the window from the 24th floor of the Hyatt Regency at dozens of skyscrapers, none with a big logo emblazoned across the building, I surmised the city developed as a transportation hub due to its location on the Mississippi River. A quick check of Wikipedia provided some additional history and socioeconomic data to shape my city view from the streets. Minneapolis is the major commercial hub between Chicago and Seattle along the USA northern tier states.
After a long travel day with flight delays yesterday, my desire for my first day in Minneapolis was to be loose and unrestrained, walking outside on the streets; even if it was only 10°Fdegrees outside.
Stepping outside of the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis in the bright sunlight of mid-day, I had no plan. On the street of Nicollet Mall, I came across an information map. The Mississippi River looked to be about a 30 minute walk.
I strolled along Nicollet Mall, a pedestrian and bus strip of 12 blocks and the commercial and shopping hub of downtown Minneapolis.
Bus stop shelter on Nicollet Mall is equipped with overhead heat lamps.
I passed a Macy’s department store. Turns out the building was the site of Dayton’s, a Minneapolis-based department store founded in 1902. In 2001, the upscale Dayton’s department stores were rebranded as Marshall Fields and five years later the department store chain was sold and rebranded again as Macy’s.
Dayton’s money-making side of the business was their discount store chain established in 1962, known by the brand name Target. Minneapolis is the headquarters of Target Corporation. Target Field in downtown Minneapolis is the baseball park home of the Minnesota Twins.
Mary Tyler Moore statue on Nicollet Mall reminded me that one of the most popular TV shows of my childhood, the Mary Tyler Moore Show 1970-1977, was set in Minneapolis. Apparently many of the scenes in the opening sequence for the TV show were filmed on Nicollet Mall more than 40 years ago. Betty White, one of the show’s costars, is probably better known to a younger audience today. Mary tossing her hat in the air was a cultural symbol of the women’s movement in the 1970s. Mary Richards was one of the first central characters on TV depicting a self-supporting unmarried career woman.
The Foshay Tower at 32 floors and 447 ft. was the tallest building in Minneapolis from 1929 to 1972. The antenna mast extends the height to 607 feet. The building has been a Starwood Hotel since 2008, W Minneapolis – Foshay. I think this property may be the lowest priced W Hotel in the world since the W Silicon Valley rebranded to Aloft one year ago. I see rates under $75 repeatedly during the weekly SPG Hot Escapes.
One Wikipedia fact that caught my eye is the population of Minneapolis dropped by 25% from over 521,000 in 1950 to less than 370,000 in 1980. The population held steady for the next three decades and there has been a downtown Minneapolis population surge in the past few years.
The Minneapolis Downtown Council held its annual meeting last week and here are some stats I pulled from a news article. The residential population downtown is 37,526. There is a ‘Live Downtown’ campaign with the goal of growing the population to 70,000 residents over the next decade.
Crime is an issue in downtown Minneapolis. Over the past four years, the city has focused on the ‘downtown chronic 100’, individuals who have been repeat offenders for loitering, panhandling, public urination and drug dealing. The crime rate has dropped each year.
Walking along Nicollet Mall, I did not see a single person panhandling and I never felt intimidated as I carried my Nikon camera around my neck snapping photos.
Signs of urban renewal are visible all around downtown.
Hennepin County Library (2006), Minneapolis.
Minneapolis-St. Paul is ranked near the top in healthy citizens with many people commuting around the city by bicycle. Even in winter.
In my version of keeping it real, when a guy in front of the library asked me to photograph him, I shot him striking a pose.
Striking a pose in Minneapolis. That is a phone, not a gun in his hand.
Past the library, the street people were absent and I was pretty much on my own walking the last couple of city blocks to the Mississippi River. Passing the Cancer Survivors Park struck a chord. My wife Kelley was diagnosed with rectal cancer in January 2009. The statistics we were told at the time was a 92 to 96% chance of surviving five years. She had surgery followed by six months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She is a cancer survivor and healthy now, five years later.
Cancer Survivors Park, Marquette Plaza is the only public park in Downtown Minneapolis according to the website.
Concert lights and vibrant nights
Rolling bikes, little tikes,
Gathered friends and changing trends
Our flavors, our community, our Mall
– Ann Tonskemper
Father Louis Hennepin Bridge (1990) is the site of the first bridge to span the Mississippi River in 1855.
On the other side of the bridge is Nicollet Island which at one time was the dividing line between the territorial claims of the United States, France and Spain for the western side of the Mississippi River.
I stopped by a lovely boutique hotel, Nicollet Island Inn, and visited long enough to see a room and warm my body after an hour in the cold air which had only reached 14°F by 3:00 in the afternoon.
More about Nicollet Island, the Mississippi River and the significance of water in the development of Minneapolis in another post.
Minneapolis gave off good vibes for me today. Especially after visiting a couple of pubs on the way back to the Hyatt Regency and meeting several locals with good conversation.