Downtown St. Paul’s energy picks up as businesses call back workers

The latest influx of office workers is encouraging downtown St. Paul and Eastern Metro boosters, who say tenant and pedestrian traffic should be much faster by summer.

“Downtown and the skyways are starting to have a noticeable pulse again,” said Patrick Skinner, general manager of Wells Fargo Place, the tallest office building in downtown St. Paul.

The 37-story tower is 90% leased, and Skinner now expects building utilization to be 60-65% of pre-pandemic levels by summer, up from 30-35% now.

“Over the past two weeks, we have learned that all of our tenants, with the exception of a few smaller tenants, are planning a return to work strategy in the near future,” Skinner said.

Before most office workers began working from home in March 2020, around 1,500 employees from Wells Fargo, the Internal Revenue Service, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and other tenants were in the building daily. .

“We are also seeing a very encouraging improvement in business and sales numbers from our tenant restaurants,” Skinner said.

Downtown Minneapolis and areas around major corporate campuses such as 3M and Best Buy will also be boosted as more companies make plans for a hybrid schedule for workers.

In downtown St. Paul, Wells Fargo workers began returning last week, as did the 2,100 Travelers Companies insurers in St. Paul. Securian Financial set the start of its phased return on Tuesday, while employees of the Ecolab business will return on April 4.

Already, the moves are causing increased activity on the streets, said Joe Spencer, president of the St. Paul Downtown Alliance.

“Walking around downtown these days, you can sense an anticipation and excitement brewing just below the surface,” Spencer wrote in an email. He also highlighted recently opened bars and restaurants like Momento, Lost Fox, MetroNome Brewery and Hepcat Coffee.

Sunny skies, plus back-to-work announcements, renewed St. Patrick’s Day events, the Minnesota Men’s High School Hockey Tournament – it all “adds to a feeling that has been missing for most of the past two years,” Spencer said.

Falling COVID-19 infection rates in recent weeks have led many Twin Cities employers to implement plans to add office days into the mix.

Travelers are taking a “flexible approach to working arrangements”, a spokeswoman said. “This means that some employees have chosen to work full-time from the office, or have roles that require them to do so. Others have fully remote positions and some have chosen a hybrid arrangement.”

This is the approach most companies take, although the details of hybrid plans differ.

3M reopened its headquarters campus in Maplewood last week and announced its “Work Your Way” model that allows most workers to choose options.

While most lab and manufacturing workers are required to work onsite, employees in 3M’s U.S. offices, including nearly 10,000 in Minnesota, were given the choice of returning to the office, the 3M spokesperson said, Tim Post, in a telephone interview.

“Working in a 3M office will be another option for non-production 3M employees, as they will find a schedule that works best for them,” Post said.

Best Buy’s approach for most head office employees is more structured — three days in the office, two at home or another location of their choosing, the company said. Some employees will be full-time on the Richfield campus and in other offices, others will be fully remote.

Best Buy’s new hybrid structure takes effect the week of April 18.

Employees of Deluxe Corp. at the company’s new headquarters in downtown Minneapolis officially began hybrid working last week, joining workers from employers including the City of Minneapolis, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and Ameriprise Financial.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in workday activity, particularly in the middle of the week, Tuesday through Thursday,” said Steve Cramer, chief executive of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

Includes reporting by Editor Nicole Norfleet.

David H. Henry