When you think of a “college town” you probably think of smallish cities where one (or more) campuses dominate all aspects of life. That's one conception. But how about a city that has 30 universities in it featuring more than 190,000 full- and part-time students within a 15-mile radius?

Welcome to the Minneapolis you didn't know. It's a far cry from the city that earned the nickname Murderapolis in the mid-1990s. Now, the city (along with its twin St. Paul) is experiencing a renaissance. The housing boom ushered in a wave of new condo projects downtown, many filled with twenty and thirtysomethings that graduated from one of the many local schools.

“The crime rate is down significantly, town homes and condominiums are springing up everywhere and the downtown population is now over 30,000, which is quite large for a community of our size,” says Todd Klingel, president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.

It is home to the University of Minnesota, North Central University, Saint Mary's University, Walden University and more than two dozen other schools. That's why the city is a magnet for big business — there are currently 19 Fortune 500 firms in Minneapolis. It also boasts the nation's fastest commute (at an average of 21.1 driving minutes), and is one of Money magazine's Best Places to Live. “The residents of Minneapolis are highly educated, very progressive and they love to dance,” jokes Richard Grones, founding principal of locally based Cambridge Commercial Realty.

But while the Minneapolis region can't be considered “under-retailed” with the Mall of America sitting just a stone's throw away, suburban malls are not what's going to draw in college kids and the young professional crowd. “In our region we have all the retail we need, it's just a matter of how convenient it is,” Klingel explains. There is now a Target and a Whole Foods downtown, and Best Buy is likely to open a store in the near future, but there is plenty of room left for more. One of the best places for development? The Warehouse District, where a $522 million, 40,000-seat baseball park for the Minnesota Twins is scheduled to open in 2010.

Fast Facts

  • Minneapolis was ranked second in Kiplinger's list of 50 Smart Places to Live, trailing Nashville in that ranking.
  • Besides the massive University of Minnesota, Minneapolis is home to 30 other four-year colleges, including two that are among the fastest growing in the nation. Walden University has grown its enrollment from 1,200 in 2000 to 13,000 in 2004. Meanwhile, tiny Capella University grew from 18 students to 2,151 during that same time span.
  • The Minneapolis market does have a healthy supply of retail space overall, with 60 square feet of retail per person. But experts say there is a need for retail geared more toward its growing college-age population.
  • The current retail stock stands at 67.7 million square feet, according to CoStar data.
  • The high number of college students is reflected in the town's demographics. With a median age of 32.3, Minneapolis is four years younger than the 36.5 median age for the rest of the United States.
  • Overall there are 93,602 college students living in Minneapolis and another 98,000 living within a 15-mile radius. It also ranks fifth in the country for the percentage of people with a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Inc. named the city one of the Best Places to Start and Grow a Company.
  • There are 168,606 housing units in Minneapolis.