Eleven Dinkytown property owners have organized to attack the proposed small-area plan and any design guidelines or historic designation for their four-block business district adjacent to the University of Minnesota.
Dinkytown is often celebrated as a place for locally-owned businesses, but lots of chains have operated there over the years. How many can you remember? Click here to test your recall, and add your memories. For more on Dinkytown developments and people, click here.
At the same time, they said expanding the planning district and rezoning it to C3A, “the highest density mixed-use district—is essential for this area.” C3A makes possible the six-story apartment buildings with commercial street-level space – two of which are under construction in the four blocks of Dinkytown and several others being built nearby.
Despite eight months of weekly open meetings by the small-area planning group, a letter signed by the individuals organized as the Dinkytown Property Owners Group accused Minneapolis city planner Haila Maze and the Dinkytown Business Association of neglecting their property interests in proposing a small-area plan for Dinkytown, especially in a public presentation November 18 at the Varsity Theater.
“To be clear, it is important to point out that the Owners Group is a completely separate entity, with differing viewpoints and perspectives, than the Dinkytown Business Association,” the letter said. “We are concerned that the process thus far is not benefitting from the input of property owners in the district.”
DBA President Skott Johnson has said the working group for the plan has met regularly since March and that their meetings have been public and that some of the signers had been notified.
Nonetheless, Maze and Johnson agreed to additional meetings to discuss the property owners’ issues and their demand to be listed among the stakeholders in implementing the plan.
The plan addresses four major categories: heritage preservation; economic development; transportation and parking; and land use and design. The owners’ letter opposed any historic preservation or design principles.
Cordelia Pierson, president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association that includes Dinkytown, is also calling for additional meetings this month. The MHNA’s land-use committee is scheduled to take up the plan at 6 p.m. January 14 at the University Lutheran Church of Hope, 601 13th Ave. S.E.
“MHNA is focusing on what preservation tools are available and where to recommend increased density,” Pierson said in an email. “The sense of the board now is against recommending density in the core of the Dinkytown area – near the intersection of 14th and Fourth – but supporting it in the commercial expansion area, the blocks surrounding Dinkytown – the library block, next to the Chateau, and across from Dinkytown Wine and Spirits.”
“The proposed design guidelines call for setback from the street front and two stories of retail along the street,” she said, adding that a proposed hotel would require changing current regulations.
“The increase in violent crime is resulting in MPD [Minneapolis Police Department] staff asking important questions about the public safety implications of increased undergrad density in Dinkytown,” she said.
The owners’ group advocated “enhanced safety efforts,” including better lighting, welcoming streetscapes, more police patrols and traffic calming without more specific suggestions on safety.
Curt Martinson, a consultant working with Doran Companies, presented the owners’ letter to the DBA meeting on December 12 when Maze was reviewing a draft of the small-area plan. He complimented Maze for all the work she’s done and said recommendations for more parking should be strengthened. But the group tried to end any type of historic preservation and design guidelines.
“Property Owners oppose any designation of Dinkytown as a local or national historic district, part of the Minnesota Main Street Program or as a Conservation District,” the letter said. “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.”
The Owners Group said they are “keenly aware of the evolution” of Dinkytown with the changes in tenants and frequent building renovations and redevelopment. A historic district would “hinder this natural evolution” of Dinkytown and its unique character.
Historic designation “would significantly diminish the value of existing properties, stifle renovations needed for tenant expansions or routine re-tenanting, and prevent the occurrence of responsible future redevelopment of older buildings,” the group said.
Lowertown in St. Paul, however, did not suffer such declines. Lowertown, which has been a designated a national historic district, has been rated by RealtyTrac as the top “hipster” zip code in the nation with anticipated increases in property values. The TC Daily Planet, City Pages and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman celebrated the recognition.
The Dinkytown property owners also challenged the idea that Dinkytown’s uniqueness was historic, writing that, “A historic designation could have a very negative impact on the ability of Dinkytown business to retain its unique flavor.” For example, Jason McLean’s redevelopment of the Loring Pasta Bar and Varsity Theater – recently recognized as having among the most creative restrooms in the nation – would not be possible with historic guidelines, the group said, without acknowledging the historic value of Loring’s exposure of the original drug store façade. McLean was among the signers of the letter.
Historic designation would stop “creative, innovative and artistic designs for Dinkytown properties,” and historic district tax credits would not pay for the hassle and expense of saving smaller the properties, they said.
The owners’ group opposed not only historic guidelines but also any design criteria because “creating criteria of one-size-fits-all does not fit with Dinkytown eclectic history.” Instead, Dinkytown must adapt to “a changing mix of tenants” and “ever changing market conditions. “ Customers and the market should determine the area’s changing needs.
Right: Minneapolis city planner Haila Maze has been working on the Dinkytown small-area plan and the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood master plan.
A public parking facility close to or in Dinkytown is the “ultimate fix” for the parking problem, the group said. Short of that, the group proposed a portal or link to the University’s existing ramp on Fourth Street with more advertising of it, a new parking ramp over the railroad trench with access from different levels and a link to the bike path and walkway below, and additional on-street parking with meters along curbs on the bridges.
Maze’s draft of the plan proposes expanding the “activity center” to acknowledge the areas that already house new six-story apartment buildings. One proposal calls for adding seven blocks to the four-block Dinkytown designation, moving it east to 11th Avenue Southeast.
The group agreed with the plan’s proposed expansion of Dinkytown as a city activity center. “This expansion could not only be to the west but also to the east towards the University Parking Ramp.”
The historic Dinkydome, once the site of a Bible college, is now part of Sydney Hall, a mixed-use apartment development by Doran Companies.
Two six-story mixed-use buildings under construction in Dinkytown are the Venue (Opus Development) in the center of the photo where the one-story House of Hanson grocery stood as recently as July and the Marshall, site of the former Marshall High School on the right. Property owners say Dinkytown should be rezoned to allow more of these mixed-use buildings.
A group of Dinkytown property owners say this redevelopment of the former Gray’s Campus Drug building as the Loring Pasta Bar would not have been possible with historic designation.
In an interview, DBA’s Johnson said Dinkytown should get a parking ramp now that the City Council has agreed to build a parking ramp for the Minnesota Vikings at the downtown stadium – a move that reverses a policy against building new parking ramps.
The Rev. Doug Donley of the University Baptist Church, served on the DBA planning committee and agreed with the need for a ramp. Five different congregations use his church on Sunday, he said, and the building has only 10 parking spaces. Many people drive long distances to church and they used to park in lots that have been removed for the new apartment buildings.
Several DBA business leaders have said that developers should provide public parking as a benefit in exchange for zoning changes they’ve received for their higher buildings. The C3A zoning change would remove that leverage. They also said the city could provide free parking, as Edina does at 50th and France Avenue South.
Signers of the property-owners’ letter [posted in full below this article] are: Rolly and Julia Reidhead, 402 14th Ave. S.E.: Paul Dzubnar, 411 14th Ave. S.E.; Jeff A. Myers, 1319-1325 Fourth St. S.E.; Gary Eidson, 1315 Fourth St. S.E., 416 14th Ave. S.E., 1413 Fourth St. S.E.; Steve Young, 317-319 14th Ave. S.E.; Kelly Doran, Sydney Hall, Dinkydome, and 412 Lofts; Irv Hershkovitz 1412 Fifth St. S.E. 1315 Fourth St. S.E., 416 14th Ave. S.E., 1413 Fourth St. S.E.; Jason McLean, 327 14th Ave. S.E.; Mark Hodd (McDonalds), 507 15th Ave. S.E.; and Tim Harmsen, 320-322 13th Ave. S.E.
The city’s draft of the plan, PowerPoint presentations from the meetings, and other documents are posted on the city’s website.
Letter from the Dinkytown Property Owners Group:
December 11, 2013
RE: Dinkytown Property Owners Group comments on Dinkytown Small Area Plan
Dear Ms. Maze:
Following the presentation of the draft Dinkytown Business District Small Area Plan on Monday, November 18, 2013, Dinkytown Property Owners Group (the “Owners Group”) met to discuss the plan as presented.
While there is much in the plan to agree with, the Owners Group believes that, as major stakeholders in the Dinkytown area, its input and suggestions should be directly heard and considered. To be clear, it is important to point out that the Owners Group is a completely separate entity, with differing viewpoints and perspectives, than the Dinkytown Business Association. We are concerned that the process thus far is not benefitting from the input of property owners in the district.
The following is a summary of the Owners Group’s comments and suggestions:
Property Owners Oppose any Designation of Dinkytown as a local or national historic district, part of the Minnesota Main Street Program or as a Conservation District. 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. Several members of the Owners Group have owned property in Dinkytown for decades and are keenly aware of the evolution of the district, both with regular changes in the identity and mix of tenants and in frequent building renovations and the redevelopment of parcels. Dinkytown’s commercial district has evolved in significant ways over the years, but has always retained a unique character. Landmarking the whole district at this point in time with some sort of historical designation will hinder this natural evolution. Freezing this evolution now implies that future stakeholders cannot be trusted to have sufficient common sense to make choices that fit the community. The Owners Group rejects this implication. It is clear that the majority of property owners, who are major stakeholders in this discussion, are against this recommendation because it would significantly diminish the value of existing properties, stifle renovations needed for tenant expansions or routine re-tenanting, and prevent the occurrence of responsible future re-development of older buildings that currently feature smaller spaces with non-standard layouts that have higher maintenance costs and that are not attractive to today’s most successful retailers.
A historic designation could have a very negative impact on the ability of Dinkytown business to retain its unique flavor. Everyone views the uniqueness of the Varsity Theater and Loring Pasta Bar as a great addition to Dinkytown. Most recently, the Varsity Theater received an award for the most unique bathroom in America—a recognition that would not have been possible if they had to follow historic guidelines. Moreover, the unique design of the Loring Pasta Bar interior came after a great deal of architectural renovation. These projects would have been greatly affected if historic or conservation districts would have been in place. Clearly, the historic designation would be a show stopper for creative, innovative and artistic designs for Dinkytown properties.
That tax credits are available is not germane to this discussion. Under the federal Tax Code, a federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit (“HTC”) can be either 10%, for buildings built before 1936 that are not deemed historic, or 20% for buildings that are “certified historic structures.” While it is unclear which properties in the Dinkytown district might qualify for any HTC, it seems certain that many will not. Even for those that do, the credits can be of little utility. This is because most of the older buildings are relatively small, which means smaller renovation costs and correspondingly smaller available credits. In order to benefit from tax credits, a property owner either has to sell the tax credits to create cash or hold them for a long period of time. In this current market, selling tax credits is orientated towards larger amounts of tax credits. The cost to implement and sell small denominations of tax credits, when weighed against the administrative hassles, inflexibility and increased costs associated with compliance with the historic restrictions, essentially makes them unattractive for smaller projects.
The Dinkytown Parking problem can be solved. The Owners Group believes the effort to create a Small Area Plan evolved when Dinkytown lost most of its surface lot parking. We totally agree that parking is an issue for Dinkytown and, clearly, the ultimate fix would be a public parking facility in, or very close, to Dinkytown. With the likelihood of that happening being very slim, we have identified some suggestions on how to potentially solve the current parking dilemma:
1) Create a portal or link to the existing parking ramp on 4th street. The Plan demonstrated that, except on days when there are large sporting events, there is currently available parking within the 4th street parking ramp. This link should be prominent enough for people in Dinkytown to realize that parking is located just to the east of Dinkytown. The thought is to help educate the public that parking is just over the hill. Make the walking experience from the ramp to Dinkytown more pedestrian friendly. Work with the University to expand the ramp, or a pedestrian entrance to the ramp, to the west, if possible, closer to Dinkytown. Add signage orientated for both vehicles and pedestrians that help identify this parking ramp.
2) Explore a parking ramp/facility over the railroad trench adjacent to Dinkytown. The parking ramp could have access from several levels and work with the bike path/walkway that already exists. This is a recommendation within the report that we believe merits extensive exploration.
3) Enhance street parking by changing the design of the current parking configuration. Add additional meters, or could the current bridges allow parking along their curb lines? These are all possibilities that need to be explored. We would also support exploring the implementation of traffic calming ideas and increasing bike/pedestrian safety in the area.
Expanding Dinkytown’s footprint would be an excellent idea. This expansion could not only be to the west but also to the east towards the University Parking Ramp. The Owners Group agrees with the City of Minneapolis that Dinkytown is appropriately designated as an Activity Center. More importantly, the concept of rezoning the area to a C3A zoning district—the highest density mixed use district—is essential for this area.
Creating design criteria is not supported by the Property Owners Group. Dinkytown has evolved by being eclectic and creating criteria of one-size-fits-all does not fit with Dinkytown eclectic history.
It remains vital to accommodate markets for a vibrant Dinkytown.
The Owners Group supports the need for enhanced safety efforts. Some of the improvements should include better lighting, well designed streetscapes, etc. that better promote a welcoming and walkable community; changes in traffic calming and pedestrian safety; and, more police patrols—especially at peak times during the day/night and during special events.
Property owners should be involved in the implementation. Within the draft report entitled Business District Plan, Section 11 outlines the implementation methodology for the plan. On pages 100 – 104 the chart demonstrating responsibility for implementation never mentions property owners as a group with any responsibilities. Many of these recommendations have direct impact on Dinkytown properties, including restrictions that could become effective and attach permanently to the property. The Owners Group should be involved with these responsibilities. Many of the recommendations that are not supported by the property owners group become the responsibility of another party.
The Owners Group requests a meeting with the Dinkytown Work Group who authored the draft plan. In addition, the property owners would like to meet with both the Executive Board Members of the Dinkytown Business Association and Marcy Holmes Executive Board to share our viewpoints. If necessary, a joint meeting could be possible to limit the number of meetings.
Finally, while there are many items within the draft plan that are excellent recommendations and as property owners we can support—there are several very important issues that we feel strongly warrant further discussion. Since the Business District Plan is still in the drafting process, it seems essential to pause and take the time to share our concerns.
Very truly yours,
Dinkytown Property Owners Group
Rolly and Julia Reidhead
Jeff A. Myers
Mark Hodd (McDonalds)
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