Heather Weerheim (00:00):
All right. Welcome to Greiner’s In practice session, we have Steve Cramer here with the downtown council. We’re going to talk about what the downtown council is up to, how the leasing market downtown is being affected and what its future looks like, and also how each and every one of us can help end homelessness in Minneapolis. So thank you so much, Steve, for joining us. We’re happy to have you here. Thank you. Just a few questions to get to know you. I read, I don’t know if this is true, but was on a LinkedIn bio. I think that you work out in the mornings.
Steve Cramer (00:32):
I do. Yes. I go to the Minneapolis club, which is a perk of being the president of the downtown council. So I get there pretty early and can get my workout in and then head to the office. So it’s a good way to start the day.
Heather Weerheim (00:44):
Are you a runner?
Steve Cramer (00:46):
I used to be a runner and then my knees kind of went on me. So I do the stationary bike, which kind of is close to that running sensation without wear and tear on the knees.
Heather Weerheim (00:54):
That’s wonderful. I also work out every morning and I feel like that’s when I have some moments of clarity and I like to plan my day. And I’m assuming that happens for you as well.
Steve Cramer (01:04):
And plus I gained a reputation for sending emails, like at 4:30 – 5 o’clock in the morning, like really impressive.
Heather Weerheim (01:12):
Wow. He’s on it. I know, guilty. Mine’s more of a text message thing, but yeah, we have someone in our office too, that also sends out the emails at 4 in the morning
Hans Siefker (01:21):
3:30 – 4:00, all the things.
Heather Weerheim (01:25):
Well, anyway, thank you again for joining us. I’ll let Hans kind of I’ll chime in as needed.
Hans Siefker (01:31):
Well Steve, welcome. I’ll just jump right in. There’s been a lot of just lots going on downtown in our environment, whether it’s a little bit of social unrest, whether it’s the pandemic going on and their benefits and challenges, leasing your thoughts and just the state of the state, state of Minneapolis, where are we at in your opinion? What are you seeing for concerns and just a quick overview? Really?
Steve Cramer (01:54):
That’s really interesting. Yeah, no, I’m happy to do that Hans. It’s been like 18 months, none of us have ever experienced before. So kind of start with that, but the combined impact of COVID and the public health pandemic with the murder of George Floyd and everything that, that ensued from that heinous act has really been hard for our community to kind of come to grips with honestly. So I think the first reaction I have is just trying to understand, you know, what we need to do to try to improve things for everybody who lives in our community. That’s a work in progress, but for decades, for decades more, but we have to make that commitment at a more kind of practical level for downtown kind of day job. You know, it really has meant that the downtown economy has been kind of knocked flat, especially in those early months after the initial stay-at-home order in March of 2020, we’re gradually coming back and we’re seeing more and more office workers coming back. Events are back this year, pro sports, live entertainment. You know, more of the restaurants are able to find that customer base to reopen, but it’s still going to be a long process. And even at the end of that process, the downtown economy that we knew pre COVID is not going to be the same downtown economy. We’re going to kind of go through a process of reset and reinvention. Sure.
Hans Siefker (03:16):
Yeah. As an organization that we’ve been in the downtown market for 30 plus years, and we’re seeing that as well. So that sounds very familiar. Or do you see up, do you see a path you mentioned it’s a long road ahead of us short term. What are you, what are you seeing short term?
Steve Cramer (03:30):
Well, I think short-term to this year into maybe second quarter of next year I think the big preoccupation will for us anyway, we’ll be trying to help nurture the back to office process. Sure. Restoring that core CBD customer base that is composed and for office workers is really important to the ancillary businesses, downtown restaurants, retail on the link. If you look at the residentially based areas of our downtown Northville, it’s like, okay, whatever happened
Hans Siefker (04:01):
Steve Cramer (04:02):
but not true in the core because of that lack of office workers and trying to nurture that process along. I think for the next six months, unfortunately, the Delta variation kind of knocked out what we expected to be in the spike around labor day. So it’s going to be a longer flatter curve, but we do have to nurture that along. So I think that’s going to be the next six months.
Hans Siefker (04:22):
What are your thoughts on the safety component? You know, again, we’ve been downtown where we’ve worked, we’ve been classified as a firm that can work through the pandemic. So we’re probably 65% in the office, 40%. And you know, whatever that mix is really flexibility has been a new thing for us. I think many others too, from that work from home quote unquote. But a lot of things we were concerned with this as a safety, you know, from our staff, from our the project where we’re hanging on comments or feedback on what are you guys seeing and hearing out there
Steve Cramer (04:51):
Hearing the same thing. I mean, if it’s not COVID safety, it’s physical safety and the perceptions of what’s happening and the reality of what’s happening downtown. I mean, I’ve never been, and I’ve never been one to just denied that there are safety issues
Hans Siefker (05:05):
Like any city.
Steve Cramer (05:06):
Right? And, we have to deal with those. And through the downtown improvement district, part of our operation work, we partner with law enforcement, with community organizations, just a really holistic approach to public safety downtown that the business community believes in investment through DID. But it’s also true that the reality of crime stats down compared to the last four year average the reality of most of the more visible incidents tend to occur in a little bit of geography and a specific time of day, where else district bar close a challenging time. But so that reality is she is surrounded by a really out-sized perception of unsafe conditions downtown, but do get in the way of employers bringing the folks back. Sure. So that’s presenting information and chipping away at that perception in part by people just coming back and experiencing downtown as it is what we have to work on over these next month.
Hans Siefker (06:08):
I won’t pretend to know that all the details inside the city, our city council, we spend a lot of time in downtown Minneapolis, but I’ve heard a lot of pieces of either the police staff and you have some other ideas and concepts from the city council. What are our thoughts on – what you are hearing from business leaders and to that context? Well, again that balance between, you know, what’s right and wrong.
Steve Cramer (06:31):
Absolutely. Well, here are a couple of things and not only for business leaders, but throughout my career when I’ve done other things, including neighborhood development. Sure. Safety is just fundamentally important to a healthy neighborhood for a healthy downtown community. And in our conception of safety, you know, is different. And that’s been part of the debate that we’ve had these last months since the murder of George Floyd, but for the business community, it is a comprehensive approach, as I said, and businesses put their money where their mouth is in that respect did, but law enforcement is a critical part of it and not status quo. Law enforcement needs to change and reform, we think the chief is the right person to lead that change, but we do need a robust force. And we don’t have that today. We have a depleted force, both in terms of numbers and I think in terms of kind of spirit.
Hans Siefker (07:23):
Yeah. We experienced that myself and a coworker, we were at a job site, a few blocks down actually right across from the us bank stadium and, you know, middle of the day type of thing. And it was a pretty, I won’t go into those details was it was a heated moment where some confrontational could have went in a really negative way. It was a spot that I personally have not been in downtown for 24 years and a challenge. And we did call the police and try to get some help. And they’re, I think they’re understaffed. They think in my opinion, dramatically, how they’re trying to figure out which calls to answer to, but it was a good and bad. It was good to experience it myself and then see what our employees are going through potentially on our work staff as well. So a lot of work to do, but hopeful that we’re going to find the right path for everybody here about a year, year and a half ago. You mentioned some concerns with firms, either deciding to go downtown, maybe not going downtown or making different decisions, thoughts on that, or what are you again, what are you seeing trend wise?
Steve Cramer (08:24):
Yeah, we did. We did a work with most of the active commercial office brokers downtown last, late last summer to try to get a handle on. So we’re hearing, okay, we’re going to flat out of downtown. So trying to get a handle on what that really, really meant. And absolutely it was true that a number of companies that had leases coming up in the foreseeable future, which as you know, for a company might mean two or three years, that’s the planning horizon. We’re kicking the tires on what other locations might mean for them. I think the, the temperature on that has gone down in my, in my, my view, but we still have the work to do to make sure that people perceive downtown and experienced downtown as being safe to kind of get beyond the COVID limitations that are affecting the vibrancy of downtown and to make sure that downtown is a good long-term location for companies that, you know, frankly do have options, but decided to come downtown for good, valid reasons. We need to restore
Hans Siefker (09:26):
Those reasons. Yeah, I would tend to agree with you that the energy that we’re seeing as a service provider in the market is that there are some of those larger corporations that are making Deluxe, for example make a really big change from shoreview for how decades and decades making a really interesting decision to come downtown. And we’re hopeful that’s a great decision for them, of course. But not only that, but just the building amenities in a lot of amenities spaces, interestingly enough, or there’s not, you know, there are partial staff, there may be 30% or 25 or 40% staff depending on the building, but they’re investing in the building, which is a positive thing to see for us.
Steve Cramer (10:02):
I am hearing that that amenity package in a building is just going to be key to success. There’s kind of be as one per person put a kind of a flight to quality in terms of office space. So that’ll be good for many of our buildings, but for others, maybe there needs to be some consideration of what a future use might be.
Hans Siefker (10:22):
Yeah. So I’m gonna change the subject a little bit. The 2025 plan can enlighten us on what that is. You guys shared some goals, oh gosh, a while ago. Yeah. How’s that going?
Steve Cramer (10:31):
Yeah, absolutely. So, one of the things that the downtown council has done historically over the years is every 10, 15 years really gathered up a wide range of stakeholders and thought deeply about what do we need to do to keep our downtown economically and socially healthy competitive with other areas. The current version of that plan is the intersections 2025 plan that was published in the fall of 2011. So we’re more than halfway through that time horizon. And it established 10 goals, including doubling the downtown residential population where we get a great progress. I think it’s served our downtown well, especially during these last 18 months when the business section for kind of softer, but also addressed issues like homelessness greening up downtown, some check off the box goals like redoing Nicollet, building a new NFL stadium, improving transit access to downtown. So just a variety of things that would again, serve the competitiveness and the vibrancy of downtown as a place to live or work or visit
Hans Siefker (11:36):
You’re feeling good. You’re track, we’re tracking as a community
Steve Cramer (11:39):
Tracking on those goals. And I think actually when we kind of get through this period of getting to whatever the new reset for our downtown economy is sometime next year, it’ll be time to gather people up and start looking out another 20, 15, 20 years. So we’ll get that planning process going next year.
Hans Siefker (11:58):
Pandemic, it’s been a roller coaster for all of us or many of us, I think up and down. It changes not only by the date, it seems, but literally by the hour, by the minute, how has your team, your staff and affected by it let alone our community, our downtown, yeah. That’s I mean, that’s a big, that’s a big right talk. It’s a big discussion, right?
Steve Cramer (12:21):
Well, at a practical level once like Greiner our downtown improvement district operation was deemed to be an essential service. So literally our Harvard DID program, the most visible part on the ambassador downtown missed exactly one week. Wow. So they’ve been out ever set up trying to have a sense of create a sense of normalcy, find this really abnormal.
Hans Siefker (12:44):
Ah, kudos does that is in this day and age, it’s really remarkable.
Steve Cramer (12:48):
And that’s been, I’ve been able to come downtown to the office. I felt justified. So I haven’t missed a day myself. I did spend some time working at home in those first months, but sort of seeing the good, the bad, the ugly 18 months and for the rest of our staff, the office staff has been like most companies, you know, a lot of, a lot of remote work and now we’ve transitioned into more of a hybrid model. Our offices are open, but being more flexible with that when people are in the office,
Hans Siefker (13:12):
If you had to guess, what’s your staff look like from downtown or from the inside to work from home?
Steve Cramer (13:17):
You know, I think it’s about any given day, probably about 50% of our staff in the office or the office staff. Yeah.
Hans Siefker (13:23):
Okay. Just curious again, I’d like to know the data, I would say before, we’re probably 60, 65%, but again, we’re, we’re definitely at a little bit different market too, or in the weeds, we’re physically building a product on sites. So it’s a little bit tougher to do that from at home personally, absolutely, somebody’s got to do the work at some point. Yeah.
Steve Cramer (13:42):
The actual physical, I just remember my first kind of significant in-person meeting a few weeks ago. And it was like, why? I just now remember how much you can accomplish in those first five minutes when people are gathering in those last five minutes when people are leaving and you just can’t do on a zoom call.
Hans Siefker (13:58):
We actually, Heather and I were at a meeting yesterday and experienced the same thing, very similar to this, refreshing to see people in person have those engagements and actually some good discussion from the beginning to the end was refreshing. For sure. I’m gonna switch subjects a little bit. PPL, you mentioned homelessness briefly here. Yes, definitely a passion of yours. Give me some background on that. Why so passionate how’d you get involved with it?
Steve Cramer (14:18):
Yeah. Yeah, well trace it back really to I came here to go to graduate school at the university and I ‘79 – born and raised in Iowa and other places where I settled here in ‘79 for graduate school. And my wife and I attended church at a college, St. Francis Cabrini, which is in that Southeast Minneapolis area, not too far from the university. And when the recession of 1980 hit people remember that I’m old enough to experience that now, unfortunately that’s when we really, in my memory really saw an uptick in homelessness in our community economic conditions were bad. The state cut back on the general assistance programs. So all of a sudden, especially individuals initially found themselves without resources. And so the response was kind of a network of church based shelters, including one in our church got it. And my wife, Debbie and I were volunteers at that shelter.
Steve Cramer (15:20):
So that got me involved, you know, became clear that that overnight shelter in a church basement was better than nothing, but it wasn’t a great solution. So the next step for our parish was to create a transitional housing program. And Debbie and I volunteered on the board of that program at Saint Francis Cabrini house. And then it just kind of continued for me when I was at Project for Pride and Living. One of the things that we did was affordable housing inclusion for people that really wouldn’t be successful in market housing for economic and social reasons. And so we did a lot of kind of special needs housing with partner agencies. And one that I really remember when the first ones that I worked on was called Anishinabe Wakiagun, which we worked with the American Indian development corporation. And it was kind of a wet house for chronic alcoholics in the native community. And they didn’t have to stop drinking, but they could come and be safe. And so that was a really meaningful project for a while. Is that south Minneapolis just off Franklin avenue
Hans Siefker (16:24):
Okay. And PPL of course is alive and well today. Yeah, busy as ever I believe
Steve Cramer (16:27):
It was founded by a guy named Joe Selvaggio was kind of a living legend. And then I ran it for 16, 17 years, and now they have a really competent executive director in Paul Williams is all new direction. So yeah, it’s a strong, vital resource in our community. Very cool.
Hans Siefker (16:47):
Homelessness in Minneapolis in general, improving getting worse.
Steve Cramer (16:54):
Yeah. Getting worse. I mean we’re not like well, I shouldn’t say that that’s worse.
Heather Weerheim (17:00):
Is it getting worse or just more apparent?
Steve Cramer (17:02):
Yeah. So let me backtrack and say family homelessness is actually significantly reduced from where it was maybe even five years ago. So that’s a good thing. And people serving people, one of the big shelters downtown is one of the leading resources to help families, not the, not the homeless more stable. Individual homelessness is trending up after many years of trending down. And I think that’s a function of certain COVID these last couple of years or these last 18 months or so, but then just generally kind of conditions in our, our society and, you know, the prevalence of mental health challenges and addiction challenges within that population and, and the lack of resources devoted to those issues in our, in our society. I think that Hennepin county in Minneapolis has done a great job or these last 18 months kind of responding largely by using hotel assets that were not being used
Hans Siefker (18:00):
Essentially vacant. Yeah, exactly.
Steve Cramer (18:02):
To help house people and get them out of harm’s way. Especially during this public health pandemic they’ve also invested in the shelter system, but at the same time we see, you know, we see encampments and we’ve had really challenging experiences with encampments over the last couple of years. So some good news, some not as good news and overall a major challenge. The one thing I have to say though, is that everything has to be a little bit relative. And so when I talk to people who come back from coastal markets or, or Denver, I mean, our challenge is just minuscule compared to what some of those are.
Hans Siefker (18:36):
So that’d be what I was going to ask and quite a little bit, because we travel a little bit, of course different with, with the pandemic, whatnot, a little bit minimized, but you know, whether it’s Seattle, whether it’s Denver, whether it’s the coast like you said. Yeah. Definitely a different animal. I think here, you know, different challenges we’re having, but still, it’s definitely more apparent.
Steve Cramer (18:54):
Yeah. To your point, Heather, about how more visible it is downtown, especially at Nicolett, especially in where my office is now part of that is that, you know, that part of downtown has always been an element of, of the next right. It’s just part of what downtowns are. But when there are fewer other activities going on with office populations, way down or last year, when there weren’t people coming for sporting events and concerts, then that part of downtown just really stood out. There’s a little bit more of it and just stood out. So it’s become more of an issue, I think for people in terms of their evaluation about
Heather Weerheim (19:29):
Right. I, and I feel helpless and I don’t know how to help them. And I’m curious to know what your advice would be for either a person or a company like Greiner. How can we help?
Steve Cramer (19:40):
Yeah. Well, one thing we say, and it’s not without controversy is that, you know, investing in agencies that really provide assistance, know mental health and addiction, as opposed to, you know, responding to panhandling is the better way to go. That’s our, That’s our view. And that’s my view as somebody who actually devoted a fair amount of time in my career to programs that address the conditions that folks on the street are facing. Other people would dispute that, but that’s, that’s how I see it. And most people I know who have really dedicated their lives to this work feel the same.
Heather Weerheim (20:19):
Thank you for sharing that. I think more people need to know that.
Hans Siefker (20:24):
Yeah, we’re seeing more and more organizations are going. Maybe it’s maybe it’s on us. That we’re just more prevalent from our relationships with the PPLs of the world. But whether it’s youth link, whether it’s Avivo, they’re definitely more front and center, at least in what we’re seeing as, as residents or workers in the downtown market. And we’re taking that as a positive, you know, we’re trying to help or try to make an impact. But it’s slow, but for us it feels very slow and challenging. There’s so much like my opinion, there’s a lot of bureaucracy, there’s so much red tape, so to speak and how do we get, you know, building we’re a builder, right. For right. That they were built, right. Funds relationship together, but we’re a builder. We build things and trying to balance out if you get developers with the need of actual, a homeless family or individuals really difficult. Yeah. Any, any advice, any advice on how do we get through that? Or is it just a never ending, scratch your head? How do we get it? Cause it just keeps on evolving to more and more regulation maybe, but is it helpful? Is it truly helpful?
Steve Cramer (21:28):
Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you as a board chair of youth line for the incredible work Greiner did with Youth Link [inaudible] creating, it’s a tractable issue challenge, but having really high quality facilities like that, that, you know, you all can create with the right resources. Certainly, certainly a positive step
Hans Siefker (21:52):
Yeah, it is.
Steve Cramer (21:57):
Yeah. And you know, there is something real to the notion of somebody who is experiencing struggles of stepping into a quality physical environment and that sends a signal about their worth and value, which is an important part of the response. I think. So just what you do professionally, when you wake up with organizations like Youth Link and others is, is, is a huge contribution. I think as individuals, you know, all of us evaluate the opportunities we have to invest our time and treasure and the like. And for those who do zero in on, on, on that challenge I think not getting discouraged and just kind of doing what we can do. One foot in front of the other is important. You know, groups like ours and many others kind of work on the policy side of that to try to limit the barriers to success. But you know, volunteers, I think just engaging with people and being helpful. I think it’s showing that all people in our society are valued. That’s really important.
Heather Weerheim (23:05):
Is there any other points that you want to get across, but, or you feel like
Steve Cramer (23:10):
We covered a lot of
Heather Weerheim (23:14):
Thanks for making our job really easy. It was amazing. Yeah. It’s really helpful.
Steve Cramer (23:20):
Well it’s great to get the questions in advance.
Heather Weerheim (23:23):
One of my takeaways that I’m going to hold on to is when you mentioned your first in-person meeting and the conversations that you had before and after that are so important. It’s a reminder, I think to me, and to people that people need to come back to the office, then you have to have those conversations. You can’t do it all remotely. There will be time or there is. Yeah,
Steve Cramer (23:46):
I think so. You know, maybe I would just as a closing comment on that, on that point you know, we’ve been thinking about, and others have been thinking about how do you try to prompt that? And our conclusion was it really does have to be an invitation. It’s not like you can Guilt people. You must come back.
Heather Weerheim (24:06):
Oh, come on, tell him we have all these amenities. I love, you also had a quote, I think regarding IDS’s new crystal court. Yeah. And what a great job assessed though, did it to kind of revitalize and bring some energy back to the city. So if you can keep doing that,
Steve Cramer (24:25):
Send those invitations out. And, our experience so far has been, as people do come back down, even if they’re a little hesitant or reluctant, they’ve had good experiences. I mean, people coming back to the Twins games to have reported, even though the team hasn’t performed as well. The experience at Target field and downtown has been, has been positive. So as people put their toe back on the water and think if we can help work to make that a positive experience that will begin to chip away at that perception and help, help, help promote the innovation process,
Heather Weerheim (24:55):
Keep inviting. I love it. Well, thank you, Steve Cramer so much again for your time. I appreciate it. And thanks for joining us for our In Practice session. Check out our website for more.