MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The once-burgeoning downtown Minneapolis can be hard to recognize these days: empty storefronts, empty sidewalks. And on several nights, unrest has filled the streets.

Shaun LaBelle is an international jazz recording artist. He’s traveled the world, but calls downtown Minneapolis home.

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“I miss the interaction with restaurant owners and all my friends,” LaBelle said. “It’s sad.”

He says that could now change.

“Now because of what’s going on with the pandemic, and now the civil unrest, in my condo building downtown we have a record 21 lock boxes. We’ve never had this many people leaving the building. It’s shocking,” LaBelle said. “They’re selling their units because they don’t want to live in an unsafe environment.”

He and others have concerns over looting, and more recently drag racing. But not everyone is racing off. Janal Kalis is an attorney who works and lives downtown.

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“I have no immediate plans to leave,” Kalis said. “I like downtown.”

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It seems all residents agree that their neighborhoods have changed. It was just a few short months ago that downtown was essentially thriving. According to the Minneapolis Downtown Council, more than 51,000 people lived downtown as of 2019. It’s a number that had gone up 60% since 2006.

Kalis has lived in downtown since the 90s, and believes the solution to a comeback is more affordable rent — for residents and for businesses.

LaBelle says he’s not sure he’ll change his address, but believes something needs to change.

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“We need people to follow law and order, and we need people to treat everybody fairly and equally,” he said.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield