Max Musicant, who founded The Musicant Group in 2012, describes himself as a “placemaker.” He learned the craft while working for Greater Jamaica Development Corp., a nonprofit in Queens, N.Y. After moving to Minnesota, he started a company that did the same thing: He transforms small parks into playful spaces.
At 333 South Seventh, where the Business Journal has its office, he worked with property manager CBRE Group Inc. to create activities on the lawn that lure employees out of the building during the work week. They can relax on lawn chairs, play bocce ball or toss a frisbee. Musicant launched similar projects at other office buildings and is branching out into the suburbs. He’s also on a team competing to develop a large residential tower and hotel on the city-owned Nicollet Hotel Block in downtown Minneapolis.
I sat down with Musicant recently at Capella Tower, where his company is doing some space programming, to talk about his business. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
You said your work in 2012 at Marquette Plaza and Cancer Survivor’s Park helped the landlord improve use of the lawn as an amenity for tenants. What did you learn that first year that influenced what you did in subsequent projects? The biggest thing we learned was how much pleasure and value tenants got just from being around the activities and people in the space — regardless of whether they were able to participate. For some tenants they were not able to use any of the new amenities, but expressed huge amounts of joy and satisfaction by being able to see it happening out of their window.
Besides office buildings, where else are you working? We do a lot of work with shopping centers and retail districts. We’ve done work in urban retailing areas like Southwest Minneapolis, downtown Robbinsdale and suburban strip centers. We also have worked with churches, nonprofits and government agencies.
What is the most expensive part of a placemaking plan? The amount of time one has to invest upfront in engaging the user base through in-person meetings, surveys, focus groups and observation. If you spend a lot of time getting to know a space and its users, you’re going to have a really good sense of what’s going to work, and both owners and users will be onboard to quickly execute thereafter.
What’s some low-hanging fruit you suggest for clients with open public space? There are a few easy things that work to improve almost any space. But if you only do one thing for a space, put in movable chairs and tables. They allow for flexibility, accommodating parties from one to 100. They facilitate conversation. They allow for people to sit, look, and be where they want, when they want. Also, contrary to what many think, there is very little theft. We’ve installed movable furniture at five outdoor sites and have had almost no theft over three years.
Tell me about the Capella Tower program you’re launching this month. There is no outdoor park, so what can you do? The new Capella Tower community manager is going to be the mini-mayor of the redesigned space. The person will be there to ensure the space is working for tenant meetings and events, and also will pro-actively create connections and experiences that wouldn’t happen on their own. I think of it as engineering serendipity.
Max Musicant: Principal, placemaker, The Musicant Group
Family: Lives in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis with his girlfriend
Education: Bachelors of Arts in political science and urban planning, University of Wisconsin; MBA, Yale University
Hobbies: Soccer, cooking, exploring new and old cities on foot and bike
Article and interview by Sam Black
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