Photo by Doug Deitchler.

Good morning, everyone! Pardon my indulgence here as I hold forth on a subject near and dear to me: Dinkytown.

If you or any of your loved ones ever attended the University of Minnesota, you almost certainly spent some time, and probably some money, in the many small bars, restaurants, bookstores and other businesses in the Dinkytown area, which has over a hundred and thirty years of history to it. In addition to university students and their professors, it’s been a hangout for artists like Frederick Manfred and Bob Dylan.

For decades, Dinkytown managed to remain a comnunity of small, locally-owned businesses and buildings. Some chains did make their way in over the years, but they did so without damaging much of the community fabric. That started to change a decade ago, when project-hungry developers looking for parcels of land to strip and flip cast their eyes Dinkytown’s way. This, combined with the desire of the U of M’s leadership to ditch the U’s role and responsibilities as a land-grant college that catered to all walks of life in favor of courting the children whose rich West Metro parents would normally send them to Macalester or Hamline or Harvard, meant that Dinkytown was in dire danger of having all of its inherent homegrown community stripped away and replaced by glitzy upscale high-rises and shopping malls run from afar by financial speculators for whom their new Dinkytown properties would be little more than numbers on a balance sheet.

There were a few initial forays, mostly on the edges of Dinkytown. Then a high-rise chain-store mall with luxury student housing on top was built, smack in the heart of Dinkytown. Then the old Marshall University High School building, which for years was serving as the UTEC Center small business and artist incubator, an entity that was in my opinion far more valuable than any out-of-state-hedge-fund-owned luxury high-rise would be to the community and the local economy, was torn down and slated to be replaced by (you guessed it) a luxury high-rise. (All of which, by the way, violate the spirit if not the letter of the Marcy-Holmes Master Plan that is intended to guide development in Dinkytown.) But those were only the prelude to bigger things.

The next phase, initiated by The Opus Development Company, which is part of the Rauenhorst Trusts, is to tear out the buildings and parking lot long used by such local mainstays as The Podium music store, Casablanca Hair Salon, Duffy’s Pizza, The Book House, and the House of Hanson grocery, in order to build a six-story luxury complex intended for well-to-do university students. How do they plan to do this? By having the area’s zoning changed from C1 (which allows for small-scale neighborhood commercial uses) to C3A to allow the construction of higher-density, mixed-use commercial and housing. Once this is done, the floodgates will open and Dinkytown will be obiterated, its small locally-owned homegrown businesses either destroyed outright or forced to move out of the area to survive.

Already, the owners of the House of Hanson, which is allied with Opus and owns much of the property in question, have forced the Casablanca Salon and Duffy’s Pizza to shut down and the Podium to leave its longtime home and merge with another store and the Book House to relocate — and that was before the Minneapolis City’ Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee had their meeting on Thursday, July 25th.

But a funny thing happened at that meeting — the zoning change was shot down by the committee. It now goes before the full city council, which will vote on it next Friday, but it’s not the slam-dunk that its backers kept implying it was. Dinkytown stands a good chance of surviving, and not getting turned into Megatown.

And that’s as good a bit of news as I can find for today.

Phoenix Woman

Phoenix Woman

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