BEST SUBURBAN DOWNTOWN - 2002
In recent years it has become fashionable among suburban pooh-bahs to promote the development of more traditional downtowns. The results have been mixed. That's not surprising. The best downtowns are fundamentally organic in nature. They are not the result of some master plan cooked up by bureaucrats who feel bad about letting the big-box retailers pave the countryside. The charms of a pleasing downtown are the product of generations of successes, half-successes, and failures all crammed next to each other. And that's precisely the feel of downtown Hopkins. This small municipality surrounded by Edina, St. Louis Park, and Minnetonka enjoys a distinct advantage over many first- and second-tier suburbs that are angling to cultivate the downtown aesthetic: Hopkins was an honest-to-goodness small town--with a real Main Street--before it morphed into a suburb. Still, city leaders deserve credit for sustaining and improving Main Street over the past decade. Two additions have really livened things up: In 1997 the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts, home to a theater company and a dance troupe, was erected on the site of an old car lot. And across the street, where the dealership's showroom once sat, there's now a six-screen second-run movie theater. Those amenities have been a boon to restaurants, bars, and antique shops that line the main drag. Did we mention the sidewalks? They are well-kept and wide, with ample curb cuts and clearly marked crossings. It's almost enough to give a pedestrian a feeling that's all too unusual in contemporary suburbia: the comforting sense that one is in no immediate danger of being run over by a minivan.