36 Hours in Minneapolis: Tourism as an Economic Engine for Our City

Swimmers enjoying open water at Cedar Lake in Minneapolis.

Swimmers enjoying open water at Cedar Lake in Minneapolis.

“Minneapolis has Prince and the Mall of America. That’s it!” That quote comes from Erica, one of my field organizers, who hails from a city that’s a huge tourist destination: Washington, D.C. 

There is a lot more to do here than have your picture taken in front of First Ave or ride the rollercoaster at Nickelodeon Universe, but Erica does have a point. People outside Minneapolis think our city is frigid and not much fun.

They are only half right.

To attract spending to our city and create lasting jobs, we need to promote Minneapolis as a great place to visit year-round, not just during big events like the Super Bowl. Here is how I propose to breathe new life into our city’s brand.

Embrace the Ice

It’s true: it gets cold here. There’s no way around that. But cold weather has numerous benefits, and Minneapolitans know how to enjoy them. We could do a lot more to get the word out to the rest of the world that Minneapolis is a cool place to come to when it’s cold. Build on the buzz for outdoor sports enthusiasts so more know that they can come here to participate in the Loppet cross country ski festival. Add more art, lights and live music to the scene and have it last longer! Help people understand the pleasure in sipping hot chocolate by a fire after walking through a snowy park. Educate people about snow, music, and the fascinating sparkle that a crisp, cold night adds to an outdoor lightshow!  In fact, how’s this for a slogan: “No two snowflakes are alike. Come to Minneapolis and see for yourself!”   And if climate change impacts our plan, we’ll chart a new course to include rollerblading or even racewalking!

Build on Existing Events

Northern Spark has continued to grow in popularity since it started a few years ago. Let’s turn it into something that draws people to the city of Minneapolis each year. We can do the same with the Loppet, the Aquatennial, Art-A-Whirl, Rock the Garden and a host of other events that occur in our city each year.

Amsterdam Light Festival

Amsterdam Light Festival

Create New Events

While it’s true that Minneapolis is cold, it’s also dark for much of the year. Speaking of lights, we should have a light festival similar to the Amsterdam Light Festival, which features “light art” or art installations made from LEDs. The installations are strategically placed to take advantage of the reflection from canals. We have a river! Imagine pieces of art illuminating the spray at the base of Saint Anthony Falls! We have buildings with mirrored glass: let’s use them as vertical reflecting ponds.  What about ice art around our lakes?  A Nicollet Mall-based light show with ice rinks on each block.  People all over the United States will want to come for some much-needed light therapy.

Outdoor Sports

In addition to the Loppet, Minneapolis offers a wide range of opportunities for people who love to play outside. Last year, the Minneapolis Park Board hosted its very first open water swimming race. The participants swam in 1.5 and 2.5 mile courses around Lake Calhoun. Though well attended it was a small event. Picture it: we could have Olympic swimmers coming from all over the world each year to swim in our lakes as preparation for their big events! Our miles of bike trails, marathons, triathlons and “Tough Mudder” events should be bringing more people to our city.  Let’s join with St. Paul to have “bikes and beers” weekends that lay out a tour of the our cities’ breweries….we could close down  major roadways to make the ride easier.  We could do the same with restaurants coupled with food demonstrations. 

Arts and Culture

Minneapolis is home to many talented artists. We know it, but the rest of the country doesn’t necessarily appreciate it.  With the WeDo project, something I started with the Hennepin Theatre Trust, we aimed to create a “walking art gallery” that starts at the Walker Art Center and ends at the riverfront. For years, many people from both inside and outside Minneapolis have had nothing good to say about our Downtown -- Hennepin Avenue in particular.  Filling it with art is one way to change that perception. Imagine a nearly two mile stretch through the center of our Downtown where the connective tissue is art.  Imagine that every block is an explosive experience brought to you courtesy of our local artists!  One could walk out of the Walker Art Center, through the new Sculpture Garden, glide through an art-filled underpass and proceed along Hennepin Avenue all the way to the riverfront with one artful experience after another, including exterior murals and street performers.   Now that’s something we could all enjoy…and would attract others to enjoy it with us!                  

We need to do more to bring our city together in interesting ways.  Big events are great milestones for us to reach for but alone aren’t enough to keep our population consistently engaged and committed to where they live.  When our citizens are engaged we help them lead happier lives and we’ll attract the people and resources that help us drive employment and financial security for all of us.  And that will help drive tourism.

Tom Hoch