MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Downtown Minneapolis was buzzing Wednesday night with the return of a decades-long tradition.

The Aquatennial Torchlight Parade made its way through the city, drawing crowds to the heart of downtown — a stark contrast to what it looked like one year ago.

READ MORE: Southern Minnesota Man Arrested After Standoff

MORE: The Aquatennial is the official civic celebration of the City of Minneapolis. There are several events happening through Saturday night.

Minneapolis resident says she Marissa Lane hasn’t been downtown in a year.

“I expected it to be a lot less busy,” Lane said. “I didn’t expect it to be actually fun again [laughs]!”

The past few weeks have also been a pleasant surprise for the staff at Barrio, where Daniel Carroll is general manager.

“We starting to get some glimpses of lunches that look like what lunch used to look like,” Carroll said. “Business has been getting better really every week. We have had some Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday lunches that would rival the busiest lunches that we’ve had down here pre-COVID.”

So is the bustle back? WCCO spoke Wednesday with Leah Wong, vice president of external relations for the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

“I would say in the last three weeks we’ve really seen a lot of momentum downtown. We’re seeing more people on the streets, more vibrancy,” Wong said.

READ MORE: Kyle Williams Charged With Murder In Kelly Kocurek's Death By Strangulation

(credit: CBS)

The council says 80% of restaurants and retailers are open, and they’re expecting another wave of openings this fall. Building occupancy across downtown is at 33%, which is double what it was in May. And when it comes to public safety downtown, violent crimes like robbery and homicides are up just slightly from this time last year, whereas property crimes like theft are up about 40%.

More than 53,000 people live downtown — a 4% increase since this time last year.

“The people are truly the best part of downtown and really what make up our fabric,” Wong said.

So maybe you’re like Jon Beach.

“I haven’t been down here for probably over a year,” Beach said.

But with things in flux, you just might find something downtown that you like.

“It seems a little different than I remember, you know, not as busy, not as crowded, but good,” he said.

MORE NEWS: 'What Are The Odds?': Mountain Biker's Life Saved By Off-Duty Doctor On Minnesota Trail

The downtown council also tracks things like light rail ridership and hotel occupancy, both of which are at 30% to 40% of what they were pre-pandemic. But they’re expecting an uptick again this month.

Erin Hassanzadeh