Doran: Business group can't delay Dinkytown hotel

Tensions boiled over at the most recent Dinkytown Business Association meeting when prominent local developer and Doran Companies CEO Kelly Doran claimed the business group isn’t legally legitimate — and he may have been right.

The city blocked Doran’s six-story, $25 million hotel project planned for the land containing Mesa Pizza, Camdi Restaurant and other businesses in February, in part because the DBA’s small-area plan requested a historic designation study for the business district.

The historic study could take months or even a year, leaving the project in limbo. Doran said the DBA, which has been meeting to discuss the plan for nearly a year, had no right to organize a plan in the first place.

Local business owners at the March 13 meeting were discussing the small-area plan, which will go before the city’s Planning Commission Committee of the Whole on Thursday, when Doran claimed the DBA hasn’t properly elected new leadership or collected membership dues for years.

“You don’t legally have a board or a right to vote on this [plan],” he said at the meeting. “The [DBA] doesn’t exist.”

Some DBA members, including Blarney Pub and Grill owner Mike Mulrooney and Dinkytown Wine and Spirits owner Irv Hershkovitz, admitted that they, too, couldn’t recall the last time they paid dues or elected new leadership.

Book House owner Kristen Eide-Tollefson said the confusion is due to longtime DBA President Skott Johnson’s abrupt exit in December. She said the group used to hold formal elections, but after a while, it was unnecessary because everyone wanted Johnson to continue leading the business association.

Johnson, who now lives in Austin, Minn., said in recent years the DBA hasn’t been following its own rules for membership dues or elections.

“No, the elections weren’t always by the bylaws,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we’ve looked at them for a while.”

Johnson said the organization became more “casual” over the years and participation flagged. They barely had enough people to operate the DBA, Johnson said, and he had to convince those that did join.

Johnson said some of Doran’s arguments were valid and the DBA should do what it can to be in good standing so it can participate in the small-area plan and other projects.

“I think it would be a good idea to have an organization that was up and running by the bylaws,” he said.

City planner unconcerned

Minneapolis city planner Haila Maze, the lead author of the small-area plan, labeled the scenario a “technicality.” She said it likely won’t affect the small-area plan or the ongoing historical study.

“While the organization wasn’t formally formed, there was a bunch of people calling themselves a business association or acting as one,” she said. “Since there was no formal action required or taken by that group, there’s no action to overturn.”

Maze said she’ll remove all references to the DBA in the small-area plan and replace them with Dinkytown “business and property owners” and that it will be clear in the plan that the DBA doesn’t have legal standing.

“It’s still the same people,” she said. “They just aren’t legally formulated.”

The DBA’s illegitimacy would only be an issue for the city if it had active contracts with the business group, and Maze said it doesn’t, to her knowledge.

“It’s unfortunate; it would have been a lot cleaner if [the DBA] was fully formed,” she said. “I hope in some fashion they can find a way to reformulate themselves.”

After the Planning Commission discusses the small-area plan, the City Council will eventually vote on whether to make it a reference document for the city.

Maze will lead the historical designation study. She said it’s nearly impossible to estimate a timeline but she hopes to have it completed by 2015.

Doran said that amount of time may cost his project millions of dollars.

“It’s ridiculous,” Doran said. “We need to follow the rules as they’re written. I have to do that in my business, and so does the Dinkytown Business Association.”

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