Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak saw the highs and lows on a June 14 tour of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, starting with coffee on the front porch of a gracious historic house, and later standing across from an apartment building known for arrests and apparent drug peddling and prostitution.
Diane Hofstede, new Third Ward city councilmember, invited the mayor, University of Minnesota officials and neighborhood representatives to tour the neighborhood and talk about crime, housing problems and the role of the university. (The city recently reported a 15 percent rise in violent crime in 2005.)
“We want to discuss a neighborhood that is at a tipping point, “ said Tom Lincoln, chairperson of the neighborhood’s safety and livability committee. “Several projects have had a very positive impact on the neighborhood and resulted in leveraged improvements. Several problem properties have had very negative impacts and leveraged larger problems.”
“What can the University of Minnesota do to help promote and help develop the neighborhood as a resource for the ‘U’?” Lincoln asked, suggesting areas such as control of undergraduate behavior, diverse and interesting graduate and faculty housing, and a role in development.
Also, Lincoln said, “What can the city do to make it difficult to operate a problem property, such as additional police presence, housing code enforcement, and rental licensing enforcement?”
In addition, Lincoln pointed out that wording in the recent bonding bill for the on-campus Gopher football stadium includes a requirement that the university submit a neighborhood impact statement to the governor and the legislature by January 15, 2007.
“We need help with public safety to prepare for further development,” Paula Buchta, Marcy-Homes host and homeowner, told the mayor and others gathered on the porch at 527 Fifth St. SE, which bears a Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission plaque identifying the house as the 1869 Thomas J. Andrews Residence, part of the Fifth Street SE Historic District.
Buchta said development along the river, including the Stone Arch Bridge, and East Hennepin has had a positive impact on the neighborhood.
“There is a tremendous opportunity for us as partners with the city and the university,” Buchta said, Specifically, there is “a window of opportunity as the (Gopher football) stadium is being built.”
Buchta outlined neighborhood success stories, including her house, which she said is an example of the use of Neighborhood Redevelopment Program funds. A renovated Blue Ribbon building and its businesses is another example, she said. And just a block away, the first new house in the neighborhood in 20 years is under construction, she noted.
The flipside, she said, are problem properties that hurt the neighborhood. When the university built more student housing, students left neighborhood rental units, she said. “We have some desperate landlords,” who can’t attract good renters,” she said.
The neighborhood could work with the university to market to graduate students, faculty, and staff members, she said. “The graduate students are incredible neighbors,” she observed, and said the neighborhood is perfect for settling in.
Ted Tucker, a city planning commission member and Marcy-Holmes resident, pointed out that the university could build student housing in three areas the neighborhood has identified for redevelopment.
Rybak said strategies could include homeownership efforts. He compared it to programs in the Como neighborhood, which he toured in April. A group of residents there raised concerns about deteriorating safety and livability in the neighborhood.
Rybak said the university has been a “phenomenal partner” with the city, but he acknowledged that when the university built more student housing, it left a vacuum in rentals. Also, Rybak said he recognizes the need for quick city turnaround on problem properties.
On the walking tour, Lincoln told the group about an incident new to the neighborhood. Classes of children from Marcy Open School play at a small pocket park called Elwell (or Turtle) Park. Two students found a hypodermic needle and one child apparently was stuck, although no more severe injuries were reported. The teacher called it the worst day of her life, according to Lincoln.
A couple blocks away, Tucker pointed with pride at the renovated house owned by Paul White. It has a new rooftop cupola, and renovation continues.
The group made a stop at Eighth Street and Eighth Avenue SE. “This is ground zero for our problem properties,” Lincoln said, referring to an apartment building at the intersection. He read a list of violations and arrests at the property, 729 Eighth St. SE. “We can’t find out who owns it,” he said. There have been reports of drug dealing and prostitution at the location. “It’s seeding all these other problems,” he said.
When Steve Swanson, who lives across Eighth Street, walked over to meet the group, the mayor asked what he sees. Swanson said he sees evidence of drug deals and prostitutes, “all the time, 24/7.” The second floor corner window on the building is broken because prostitutes threw rocks to get men’s attention, he said.
On the van tour, Tucker pointed out numerous landmarks, including the house of the late Joan Leigh. “Joan Leigh was one of the great people of the neighborhood. We’ll see evidence of her everywhere,” he said.
The van tour included 15th Avenue SE, where the university’s football practice facility presents a blank wall to the neighborhood, Dinkytown with the Loring Pasta Bar and Southeast Community Library, and along the future Dinkytown Bypass/Granary Parkway, which will run in a railroad trench similar to the path of the Midtown Greenway.
The 15 people in the tour included Kathy O’Brien, vice president for university services, Jan Morlock, Kendre Turonie, University Police Chief Greg Hestness and Marcy-Holmes Executive Director Melissa Bean.