Economist: MSP needs more marketing, more entrepreneurship, more courage

Too many Minneapolis-St. Paul businesses are sitting on their money, shellshocked, waiting for good times to return, when now is the time to get back into the investing game. That was the essence of Brian Beaulieu’s message to a gathering of real estate-related business leaders this week in downtown Minneapolis.

Brian Beaulieu
Brian Beaulieu

“We’re no longer on the downside of this business cycle,” he said. “You’ve lived through the very worst. We’re not going to have a double dip recession.”
Beaulieu, a leading economic forecaster and CEO of the Institute for Trends Research in Boscawen, N.H., threw a blizzard of financial graphs, charts and statistics at his audience, assembled by the Urban Land Institute Minnesota. It’s not that housing or commercial building prospects will recover overnight, or at the pace of pre-2008, he said, or that employment will return to earlier levels.

Indeed, consumers are not leading this recovery, he said, but there’s money to be made in targeted business-to-business investments. Those targets, he said, include energy, green industry, information technology, water, higher education, health care, food, pets, security, legal services and anything having to do with aging.

Homebuilding will resume in 2013, Beaulieu predicts
After another wave of foreclosures in 2012, homebuilding will resume in 2013, he predicted, with a slow revival in commercial real estate following. For now he suggested that investors snap up properties near water or with skyline views, reminding his audience that the population will grow and that premium building sites will be limited.

Asked to assess the comparative recovery prospects in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, he recited the now familiar litany. We have a highly skilled, highly reliable work force and a great quality of life, he said. But no one knows about us because we haven’t promoted ourselves. And we’re burdened by a high cost for doing business — not just taxes but complex procedures. Moreover, we have trouble asserting ourselves as entrepreneurs — particularly in converting research into commercial products produced locally.

Those shortcomings are increasingly in the sights of local planners and business leaders trying to use the recession as an opportunity to recalibrate the metro region as a better competitor in the decades ahead.

Cheers or boos?

• Cheers for “pay lanes” on Interstate Hwy. 35W.
I’ve changed my mind on tolls. A few years ago I thought it wrong to allow single drivers to pay their way out of congestion on so-called Lexus lanes. While I’m still bothered by the “pay to pollute” option, I think that expanded express bus service can offset some of the harm and that, over time, MnPass can help establish an important principle, especially as it expands to other major Twin Cities freeways: Drivers must begin paying more directly for the high cost of road construction and maintenance. Gasoline taxes can no longer cover those costs, especially as cars become more fuel-efficient. The idea that the more you drive the more you pay will contribute greatly to healthier lifestyles and more vital communities.

Peavey Plaza
Source: City of Minneapolis
Peavey Plaza

Cheers for the proposed redo of Peavey Plaza. The city of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Orchestral Association agree that the plaza cannot survive in its current condition (benign neglect) alongside a renovated Orchestra Hall. Today the City Council selected osland.and.assoc. to redesign the space. Principal Tom Oslund is on a roll, having recently completed Gold Medal Park and Target Plaza. My hope is for a new design that will allow the plaza’s use in winter as well as summer; and that it will retain its mid-century modernist look, but with a softer, shadier landscape. Downtown leans heavily toward hard surfaces and straight lines of steel, concrete and glass; it badly needs a lusher, greener, more textured, more comfortable feel.

• Boo hoo for the Northstar line’s lower-than-expected ridership numbers as the commuter rail line marked its first anniversary this week. Through September, ridership ran 5 percent below projections. And by the end of the year, the region’s first comuter line will be running 20 percent behind, having provided fewer than 720,000 rides compared to an expected 897,000. Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons blames a bad economy. Fewer jobs means fewer people riding to work. On the cheerful side, Northstar will meet its $16.8 million operating budget this year and post an on-time arrival-and-departure rate of 96 percent. Oh, and the ridership numbers aren’t so bad if you consider the long haul. No one declared the Interstate highway system a failure after the first few segments were opened in the 1950s. It takes a network to make a successful transportation system.

In metrospect: Three significant stories this week

• What makes a city great?
H.V. Savitch, writing on, offers four fundamentals (the 4 C’s): Currency, cosmopolitanism, concentration and charisma. Currency means that a city shapes the world by the value and forwardness of its actions. After big setbacks in the 1970s and ’80s, for example, Chicago remade itself as a vital and attractive city. Cosmopolitanism refers to a city’s ability to embrace multicultural or polyethnic features. No city embraces differences better than New York. Concentration describes a city’s productive mass and ability to proximity for its residents. Even a car-bound city like Los Angeles can generate enormous global influence and design integrity, Savitch says. Charisma refers to a city’s aesthetic appeal. The blend of San Francisco’s architectural and natural setting, for example, is hard to beat. Those four are the only U.S. cities that can be considered truly great, Savitch concludes.

• Planner malpractice. Amanda Thompson writes on Placeshakers that planners are lucky not to be sued for malpractice given that that their designs have abetted major public health problems in the U.S. — most of them related to obesity. For 50 years we’ve constructed a world that achieves one primary purpose, she says: to move cars faster. Why not design our cities, she wonders, in ways that give us a fighting chance to be healthier?

• Don’t romance the smokestack. Writing on Citiwire, William Fulton laments the tossing of public subsidies at worn-out industries compared to the stellar success of smart investments (both public and private) in infrastructure projects (big airports in Denver and Dallas) and research universities (Stanford) as a way to preserve and attract community wealth.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/19/2010 - 03:01 pm.

    Re: Planner Malpractice…

    1) Planners don’t get to make policy. They follow orders from political and economic powers-that-be. If we’re going to sue (not a productive line of thinking, but for those of litigious mind set…), sue the people who made the auto-centric policies, not the people who designed the residential and commercial development based on those policies.

    2) Since it took us well over half a century to really find ourselves committed to (“trapped in”?) auto-centric living, will it take us another half century to wean ourselves from it? Can we do so without allowing the usual policy and practice pendulum to swing so far back that we’ve reverted to the 19th century?

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