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Skyways or not, let’s celebrate that folks still love the magic of our downtown

Every city, including ours, has tremendous room for improvement, but can we all stop for a second and see the sunny side of things?

The ongoing debate over Minneapolis’ skyways has surfaced so many interesting points that we still can’t quite get our heads around our own opinions. But at one of downtown’s busiest restaurants, we at Hell's Kitchen have been fielding a boatload of questions about the skyways from our customers as we weave in and out of tables saying hello.

When pressed for “our opinion,” we tell them that we’re not smart enough to know what should or shouldn't happen; we’re just grateful that so many people somehow find their way into our underground lair no matter what the weather is. Some weekends, we take care of several thousand guests, which keeps 177 well-paid employees busy as heck. Last year alone, we spent $381,659 on employment taxes and sent $1,110,178 to Minnesota in collected sales taxes and a chunk of these taxes went to the City of Minneapolis to help the city pay for U.S. Bank Stadium.

Enough about money, though. Whether you consider thoughts about tearing down our skyways harebrained or brilliant, this debate has forced downtowners to think hard about what makes the heart of our city work or not work. One thing is for sure: While yes, there are empty storefronts, there are plenty of retailers and restaurants and bars and banks and branding agencies and software developers and all sorts of other businesses that are thriving downtown with or without skyways. Hell’s Kitchen, for example, is in the unique position of having had a view from both sides. We thrived when we were on 10th Street without any skyway access, and we’re thriving at our current location on 9th Street. Folks do find their way to whatever businesses they want to support; when we took an informal poll this past weekend, we discovered they came by foot, car, bus, light rail, Uber, bike, scooter, and motorcycle. One person came on his longboard and yes, several found us via skyways.

Exciting possibilities

So here’s our point: Every city, including ours, has tremendous room for improvement, but can we all stop for a second and see the sunny side of things? Even with Macy’s gone, we still feel fortunate to work right in the middle of one of the best cities in the whole dang country. The possibilities for filling Macy’s/Dayton’s as well as Barnes & Noble are ridiculously exciting not just for downtowners, but for all Minnesotans. While there will always be the “urban vs. suburban vs. outstate” tug and pull, let’s celebrate that folks from all over our state and region still love the magic of our downtown.

Some of our most loyal customers are teachers, firefighters, shop owners, restaurateurs and puckheads from Embarrass, Madelia, Moorhead, Rochester, Grand Forks, Hugo, Brainerd, Duluth, and all over, and the common thread is how much fun they’re having not just downstairs at our place, but downtown all over the place. There's a helluva lot of good will and a helluva lot of people from throughout our amazing part of the country who aren’t just rooting for Minneapolis to succeed and flourish; they see Minneapolis succeeding and flourishing right now.

All of us at HK take some good-natured ribbing for always being "the glass is half full" people — there's a song from Timbuk3 called "The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades" that pretty much nails our views about our future. Does our downtown face challenges? Of course, but let’s not forget that right now, even with solvable issues, we see throngs of people streaming in and out of the State and Orpheum. We enjoy one of the most amazing ballparks in the world. We're watching "Downtown East" crawling with new business, hotels, amazing restaurants, the Guthrie, the new stadium, the breathtaking riverfront, and buildings full of people — young and old — happy as clams to be living downtown.

Sports, music, five-star restaurants ...

We see our Convention Center shattering its previous years with yet another record number of convention visitors. Along with thousands of others, we happily crowded into First Ave to share Prince memories last week. The most amazing grouping of five-star restaurants make their home in the North Loop, and looking into the near future, we see a mass of happy X Games, Super Bowl and NCAA hoops visitors just itching to taste all the greatness our downtown currently offers.

So celebrate the fact that even with challenges, we’re doing better than many downtowns, and as Paul Wellstone used to say, “We all do better when we all do better.” Millions of visitors aren’t scared of downtown and neither are we. While we honestly don’t know whether everyone would be better off without our skyways, we absolutely couldn't be more optimistic about today, tomorrow, and well into the future of downtown Minneapolis.

Cynthia Gerdes, Steve Meyer and Pat Forciea are the owners of Hell's Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis.

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