If it has to do with downtown, Dan is on it.
Dan Collison has four business cards he hands out to people as he zips from development meetings, equity discussions and other engagements (often on his retrofitted road bike).
He is currently the director of downtown partnerships for the Minneapolis Downtown Council, where he is working on a retail pop-up program, as well as the executive director of the 2020 Partners, a group dedicated to the vitality of the North Loop.
As the executive director of the East Town Business Partnership, Collison is constantly promoting and assessing the business environment of downtown’s newest district.
Collison also serves as the lead pastor at First Covenant Church, which is close to breaking ground on a $37 million affordable-housing project near U.S. Bank Stadium.
Q: How did you first get involved in downtown planning?
A: I started at First Covenant nine years ago in 2009. The invitation was to restart, rebirth, redevelop a community of faith in an area of town that had more questions than answers. The church as it was had to reinvent itself and needed a leader who was involved in the community. That work sent me in three directions. Ultimately, I had to get involved in a volunteer level with the community to ultimately understand what the community would want. What happened was $3 billion came to this side of town in a six-year period of time. I moved from being a volunteer board member to being a volunteer chair and president. And then when the stadium legislation hit, the Downtown Council reached out to me. The current CEO Steve Cramer said, “Hey, your organization seems to be really helping run cross sector and providing community engagement, engagement with developers and just a sense of how can we both build buildings and build community at the same time.” That immediately attracted me by the way as a pastor because being a pastor is about creating a container where people disagree on a lot of stuff but still find common meaning on a current shared set of values.
Q: Where do you think downtown is in its developmental stage?
A: If the goal is 21st-century urbanism and best practices internationally and not just in the United States, we are on the younger side. Having been able to capture the urban renewal, the turnaround since 1990 of reinvestment that’s got residential components, I feel like we’ve just begun this deeper dive. What we are seeing are more residents, more businesses and more retail organizations and event organizations doing things that both benefit the public as well as businesses. But it’s all really young. I feel like to me it feels like the early side. What I’m passionate about here is making sure we are connecting, we are convening, we are all working on everything to make this a vibrant and inclusive downtown. I feel like we got the big scale stuff down because we have the big venues. Now we have to work on everything in between.
Q: How would you compare East Town and the North Loop?
A: I would argue East Town and the North Loop are the fastest-growing emerging areas. They are unique and special and they both share similar development paradigms with the North Loop being maybe 10 years ahead in some regard to what East Town is doing. But East Town has happened so fast.
Q: How are you working to make downtown more equitable and inclusive?
A: The Equity Innovation Center [at the YMCA] is a really great project in my director of partnerships role. The Inclusive Downtown Think Tank that is a yearlong process, half-day convenings [of more than] 90 leaders of many backgrounds informing and passing a vision for a more inclusive downtown. That conversation as we are approaching the halfway mark is about getting an agreed-upon set of language. By getting practical you not only agree to what is the goal. You agree to strategy and you agree to tactics. And then you measure against them. So we are ultimately forming a whole new work group that is working on not only diversity but inclusion. There’s a difference between diversity and inclusion. It’s a power-sharing piece. It’s about who is on the board and who is making decisions. This is part of my joy to help develop the leadership constructs to be more racially diverse and to be more inclusive.
Q: How do you balance everything you are doing in downtown with your church responsibilities?
A: I do about 20 meetings a week on average. From the church side, having nine years there, I have the pleasure of working with some of the most amazing people that are not only church people but community, civic-minded staff and leaders. They run the organization day-to-day. I’m there for strategy support and yeah, I do provide pastoral presence usually though on the evenings and weekends. I only speak and preach half of the time. I will argue it’s a modern construct where religious leaders can be more of a bridge leader in the community. I have found that the pastoral skills, creating spaces where people can spark and even get angry and come at things differently applies to best business practices but without theological or religious anything.