MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The road to recovery from the pandemic has been financially devastating in most places.  But downtown St. Paul may be an exception.

While downtown Minneapolis has seen a significant hit to businesses, new data suggests the impact in St. Paul may not be so severe.

WCCO looks at how the city appears to be holding its own.

Life as we know it has changed. But it seems in the state’s second-largest city, the changes have been a bit less crippling.

Joe Spartz heads up BOMA — the local building owners and manager association. He says this new data is “surprising.” Amidst a financially devastating pandemic, occupancy is up in St. Paul more than a percentage point from 89.85% to 91%.

Spartz says St. Paul was thriving before COVID, downtown residency was up 112% over the past decade and three huge new projects were in the works.

“So what we are seeing play out here in these numbers is a reflex of that,” he said. “And the reality is in the long term and the business community we still don’t know whether it’s STP, Minnesota, we still don’t know what the long term impact is going to be on business office space needs.”

But for now, things are looking up — thanks to new tenants like former Gopher and Super Bowl Champion Ben Utecht.

“I almost feel like I owe it to this great state that gave me so much to try and do whatever I can to do the same thing back,” Utecht said.

Utecht is an investor in a large project in downtown St. Paul. It will have a Ninja gym, Chiropractor, and other services — to serve the underserved.

It’s a business risk he is willing to take and a city he is willing to gamble on. Utecht is hoping others in the Twin Cities will follow suit.

“I think if we can do this successfully, we can be a beacon of hope and other leaders can follow and we can bring more businesses into these two great cities,” he added.

Utecht’s health center is set to open in early March.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield