Dinkytown hotel v. Historic preservation


Developer Kelly Doran’s plan to build a six-story hotel in the heart of Dinkytown received a setback January 21 when the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission rejected his three requested demolition permits, pending a review to determine whether Dinkytown should be designated a historic district.

Anne Behrendt, legal counsel and spokeswoman for Doran Development at the HPC hearing, said her company will “very likely” appeal the decision to the City Council, which could reverse it to pave way for construction of a 125-room hotel in the four-block business district adjacent to the University of Minnesota.

City planner Janelle Widmeier prepared the staff report to the Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC), recommending approval of permits to demolish two business buildings at 1315 and 1319 Fourth St. S.E. and a home around the corner at 410 13th Ave. S.E. The business buildings on Fourth Street Southeast house the Mesa Pizza and Camdi restaurants, a tattoo parlor, the Publika coffee shop, and the University LifeCare clinic.

Council Member Jacob Frey, who represents the Third Ward including Dinkytown, said that the appeal is a quasi-legal process so he’s not allowed to comment in advance. But, he said, he wants to hear the presentations to the City Council before he decides. He suggested there might be ways to compromise between the developer and the neighborhood, which opposes tearing down existing businesses to build a hotel.

This drawing from Doran Companies shows the proposed six-story hotel for the 1315 and 1319 Fourth Street Southeast. The gray block on the right shows the relative size of the Opus Development’s mixed-use building schedule to open next year.

How do you compromise between tearing down a building or not tearing it down? “There’s more than one building involved,” Frey said.

The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association opposes demolition of the business buildings but took no position on the 127-year-old two-story house on 13th Avenue next door to the Burrito Loco Bar and Grill.

Although Widmeier’s report recommended demolition, her historical analysis provided evidence for historic designation, said Cordelia Pierson, president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association. MHNA’s land-use committee opposed the demolition at its meeting on January 14.

Pierson added that the Dinkytown Small Area Plan that has been in the works for a year recommends that the four-block business district be considered historic. “This HPC action would require the city to initiate the process for historic district designation, for which most of the work has already been done,” Pierson said.

This 127-year-old home would be torn down to provide access to the rear of the Doran’s proposed hotel in Dinkytown.

This view of the rear of the house on 13th Avenue shows where some additions have been made over the years.

At the hearing, HPC member Chris Hartnett asked planners why a historic study had not already been done. Principal city planner Haila R. Maze responded that the city has 500 properties and about 50 potential districts being considered for historic designation. So the planners have to prioritize. “We can’t do everything at once,” she said, adding that some of the work has been done recently as part of Dinkytown’s small-area plan.

The HPC unanimously, on a 9-0 vote, rejected the demolition permit for the one-story brick building at 1319 Fourth Street, which was constructed in 1921 with renovations in 1928 and alterations in 1940, 1950, 1954 and 1979.

The HPC rejected all three demolition permits, and some commission members suggested that Dinkytown be considered as a district, rather than evaluating each building on its own merits.

Two members dissented on the vote against demolishing the concrete-block building at 1315 Fourth Street constructed as a one-story drive-through bank in 1955. A second story was added to the building in 1961 and repairs and renovations were done in 1976, 1978 and 2012.

Even though the building isn’t as unique, Pierson said, it was built as drive-through bank within the long time line of the historic era and may represent a lost architecture.

One of the controversies over historic preservation of Dinkytown centers around whether this building that began as a one-story drive-through bank in 1955 contributes to the area’s historic nature.

The HPC voted 8-1 against the demolition permit to tear down the 1887 single-family home around the corner from the businesses sited for demolition. The house with original windows, wood siding and a stone foundation predates Dinkytown’s evolution as a business district and it looks much as it did when it was built, Widmeier said.

“Is this house a case of being the last man standing?” asked HPC member Susan Hunter Weir. “Do we know if this was a mix of residential and commercial? This is kind an interesting question.”

Widmeier displayed an 1898 city map showing homes on the blocks where Dinkytown stands today, and Maze said the former parking lot area of Dinkytown had a number of homes that were of a similar age.

Two large Victorian-era homes that also housed businesses were demolished earlier this year to make room for the six-story Opus Development currently under construction on the north half of the block on which Doran has proposed building the hotel.

The draft of the small-area plan suggests which buildings, especially the one-story brick building, could contribute to the integrity of a historic district.

The draft of Dinkytown’s plan, Pierson said in a letter to the HPC, calls for preservation efforts to “’focus on the core business area of Dinkytown’ – the properties centered on the 14th Avenue and 4th Street intersection – to maintain the identity of ‘Dinkytown,’ a finding supported by in-depth, current historic research.”

“These buildings in particular are being rented by successful small businesses that support the social and commercial life of the area,” she wrote. “They are in average building condition, and could be redeveloped without demolition. Protecting lower density in the historic core will retain smaller retail spaces and their local businesses, maintaining business diversity.” Adjacent commercial spaces could be “more conducive to 21st century business development.”

Doran’s report disagreed, saying that the criteria for a historic time frame for Dinkytown are so general that any building in a commercial area could qualify. “Given the relatively small size of the structure, its age and its current condition, the cost to restore the building would far exceed its value. The structural integrity of the building would not support multiple additional floors or major structural alterations.”

Pierson argued that Dinkytown warrants historic designation under two of the statutory criteria, including its “distinctive elements of city or neighborhood identity” and its association with “significant events or with periods that exemplify broad patterns of cultural, political, economic or social history.”

She characterized Dinkytown as ”a vibrant, eclectic commercial area adjacent to a world-class university” well known throughout the region.

“Its pedestrian-scale physical appearance and character are strongly associated with the historic character of our neighborhood – the first neighborhood in Minneapolis, nestled between the major land-grant University, with its historic knoll area, and the St. Anthony Falls Historic District,” Pierson wrote.

“During the 1950s and 1960s, the area developed a ‘bohemian’ reputation that it still maintains, and became a center for marches and protests. The Red Barn uprising and ‘People’s Park’ – memorialized on the 1319 4th Street S.E. property’s alley wall–continue to represent for many people the power of community-wide support and grassroots action to preserve the character of a place.”

Along Fourth Street, Dinkytown provides a transition between the University’s athletic and institutional buildings and the residential neighborhood, Pierson said, adding that “visitors enter the distinctive district, characterized by single- to three-story buildings with unusually intact cornices.”

“The older buildings at the intersection, including 1319 4th Street SE, represent the first phase of [Dinkytown’s] construction, from 1900 to 1920. The 1315 4th Street SE property, mid- block along the north side of 4th Street SE, represents the second phase, from the late 1940s to 1955,” she said.

These buildings provide “continuity in scale” to allow the three-story Dinkydale and Varsity theater buildings across the street to “remain prominent in the commercial area,” Pierson said.

From the corner of Fourth Street and 14th Avenue, one can see rows of one- to three-story business buildings in the heart of Dinkytown. Neighborhood leaders say the historic view would be disrupted by a new six-story hotel in the block on the left.

“Current students and thousands of alumni of the University of Minnesota have had the common experience: a pedestrian-scaled commercial and social area with architectural distinctiveness. Dinkytown’s combination of architectural styles reflects the character of the area: stimulating and eclectic,” she said.

“We welcome expansion of the Dinkytown commercial area into adjacent city blocks while retaining the existing commercial density in the historic core of Dinkytown–C1 zoning, allowing 2.5 story buildings,” she said.

“Dinkytown was once known as ‘the second downtown Minneapolis’ and is still well known to generations of University alumni, residents, and business owners,” Pierson said. “As the draft plan states, ‘the Dinkytown commercial district is an important historic resource that is directly linked to the growth of the University and the residential population of the surrounding neighborhood,’” Pierson said.

Several members of the land-use committee said at their meeting they hoped the city’s proposed conservation district ordinance, which would be less restrictive on landowners than a historic preservation district, would be available for these properties.

A new organization of Dinkytown property owners, however, has written to the City Council to oppose the still-unapproved Dinkytown plan, any historic designation or any other conservation restrictions on development of their property.

“While our group agrees that there may be certain properties that warrant historic recognition, the Property Owners also believe that any such designation should be made with precision so that it applies only to properties truly worth saving, and that any attempt to place a designation on the entire area would be a mistake,” said the letter signed by 11 people who own land in Dinkytown.

The City Council will host a public meeting on the proposed conservation district ordinance at 4:30 p.m. on January 28 in Room 319 in Minneapolis City Hall.

Kristen Eide-Tollefson, owner of the Book House in Dinkydale, said the proposed small-area plan lists 21 potentially contributing buildings for age, style, integrity and “intact cornices – very unusual for several city blocks.”

Jim Sander, whose wife owns Kafé 421, said the planners’ market research says Dinkytown would be at a competitive disadvantage without a clear identity and brand. “An awful lot of the character of old Dinkytown is that corner,” Sander said. “Without those buildings, there is very little left.”

Residents worked with the Opus development’s architect to have setbacks that leave the street more like the scale of the original buildings, Sander said. “We have no concept of what will be built on this site” if the buildings are demolished. “That could be very damaging to the fabric of the area, not to mention what happens to emergency access to the buildings that remain.”

HPC member Hunter Weir said she has visited Dinkytown over a period of 40 years. “I was struck by how remarkably little change there has been,” she said. “You start chipping away at buildings and then you destroy the area and that becomes a reason for more demolitions. It is important that we do not threaten the possibility of designation.”

Behrendt told the HPC that the three buildings comprise less than seven percent of the four blocks proposed as a historic district. “If this building is coming to be a historic resource,” she said, “then you’re looking at most buildings constructed before 1980 in the City of Minneapolis. It’s incredibly broad.”

HPC member Linda Mack agreed that the time line from 1899 to 1971 was “rather long,” making this area a problem for a historic district. “I’m having trouble figuring out whether it [the former bank building] is contributing other than it was built in that very long time period.”

HPC member Robert Mack said he’s not bothered by buildings that don’t necessarily fit within the definition of the district. “Virtually all historic districts have things that don’t fit the district.” For example, the Southeast Fifth Street historic district known for its historic homes has the First Congregational Church. The Minneapolis warehouse district has some buildings that don’t fit within the historic time frame.

The MHNA will consider Doran’s hotel plans at its February meetings, beginning with the land-use committee at 6 p.m. February 11 at the University Lutheran Church of Hope, 601 13th Ave. S.E.

CORRECTION: Apologies to Cordelia Pierson, president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, whose name was misspelled in the original version of this article. 

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.