Southeast Minneapolis: Community concerns lead to changes in plans for UTEC site development

The Dinkytown area can expect more than luxury housing from the project that will replace the University Technology Enterprise Center in 2014. Increased parking and a public walkway are among the site’s new features approved by the Minneapolis Planning Commission Monday.

The changes follow discussions between area businesses, the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, developer GEM Realty Capital and the city.

MHNA President Doug Carlson said this type of cooperation is a recent trend that benefits all involved.

Recently, developers and neighborhood associations have worked together from the earliest planning stages. Ultimately, developers can save money by collaborating earlier, he said.

“They used to come to us in the midst of the project,” Carlson said. “They had moved ahead with designs before they even talked with anyone.”

The additional parking comes in response to pressure from area businesses owners, who feared the loss of parking on the UTEC site would cripple their businesses, which rely on customers from off campus.

The new plan includes 47 more above-ground spots than the original plan, which was approved in late August by the City Planning Commission.

According to the planning division report, residents will be given priority to about 25 of these above-ground stalls, and the remainder will be made publicly available for a fee.

Dinkytown grocery store to come?

To make the additional parking possible, retail space was shifted around and some of it was sacrificed altogether.

The approximately 44,000 square feet of commercial space will likely include a grocery store and two other retailers, according to the report. The tenants have not been finalized.

Though there hasn’t been a full-service grocery store in the University district in 15 years, there are mixed reactions to the possibility of an on-site grocery store.

“We welcome the possibility for grocery-type shop,” Carlson said. “I think that’s been a desire for a long time in that area.”

Ryan Grant, a fifth-year sports management student, agreed, saying students without vehicles are in need of a closer grocery option to campus.

But Laurel Bauer, owner of House of Hanson — a small grocery store across the street from the UTEC site — is concerned for her business.

“I feel it’s a huge threat,” she said.

Charlene Bogonko, a global studies senior, worries about the effects of additional commercial space on campus.

“It just becomes way more commercialized and makes it feel more impersonal,” she said. “The school loses its sense of authenticity and originality and becomes more of a commercial place.”

As for the other retail spaces, Bauer says she hopes the developer will take into consideration Dinkytown’s existing businesses, which already include more than 30 restaurants and bars.

A new walkway

The walkway, which was added after talks between the MHNA and developer Boarman Kroos Vogel Group, will allow for a public path cutting across the site.

The planning commission approved the addition but with several safety conditions including special late-night precautions concerning how and when the enclosing gates should be open.

Arvonne Fraser, vice president of MHNA, considers the addition a victory for the Dinkytown area.

“We were very adamant about having a walkthrough kept in some way, and they’ve done a nice job,” she said.

The UTEC project

The planning division report describes the 317-unit project as one “essentially designed as five separate buildings with varying degrees of connections.”

The developer plans to market it not only to University students but also to faculty, staff and other professionals who wish to live near campus.

The project will offer a variety of units — from studios to four-bedroom units — as well as amenities like a plaza, a fitness center, an indoor pool and a central courtyard.

Though it won support from MNHA, others have had varied reactions to the project.

Jim Sander, supporter of his wife’s restaurant, Kafe 421, is apprehensive of the change.

“The world we live in will be rapidly changing,” he said. “I wish it hadn’t happened.”

For Bauer, whose store recently celebrated its 80th anniversary, it’s an unfortunate change.

“It’s just hard to see something come in and change the picture so much,” she said.

“There’s always change, I guess. I’m not opposed to change as long as they consider what’s already here.”

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