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One developer should not dictate the future of Dinkytown

Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis
One developer should not dictate the future of Dinkytown.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn

My first address in Minnesota was 822 6th St. SE, a wonderful rented part of a duplex on the outskirts of Dinkytown. That house is now gone, becoming part of the properties taken for the I-35W freeway. I thought of it again with the discussion of a possibility of a noise wall along 35W. (One of the houses whose residents were being notified was 820 6th St. SE.)

Another more immediate threat to the very heart of Dinkytown is the proposed Opus residential housing project at 5th St. and 14th Ave. Although my immediate interest is this threat close to the heart of an area central to the lives of so many university students and associates over generations, spot zoning is a threat to other neighborhoods in the city as well.

Affordable only to the well-off

This proposal would tear down the Podium, the Book House, House of Hansen and other small businesses to build a six-story upscale “dormitory-style” complex only affordable to well-off university students. (Yes, the famed Al’s Breakfast could be next.) In essence, it will be like so many others, which are at least farther from the heart of Dinkytown and in Stadium Village. This project would essentially be upscale housing that reduces diversity and doesn’t meet the needs of the wider economic diversity of students trying to afford a university education.

This project cannot happen unless the members of the Minneapolis City Council approve the impactful spot zoning change from C1 (small scale neighborhood commercial uses) to C3A (higher density mixed use commercial and housing) for this half block area of Dinkytown.

Further negative effects would be the likely domino effect on the rest of Dinkytown, the loss of small business, and the glorification of development without planning. Several actions are under way that should precede this, including a Dinkytown small area plan and an update of the Marcy-Holmes master plan. One developer should not dictate the future of Dinkytown.

Efforts to counter this travesty include a petition drive at and a resolution passed at the Minneapolis DFL city convention.

Domino effect is real

Every City Council member should consider the negative effects of this precedent. Small locally owned businesses add to the cultural, historic and aesthetic qualities of C1 districts throughout the city. The domino effect is real. What will be a plausible excuse to stop the next one? Perhaps in your favorite area?

The Zoning and Planning committee voted against the required zoning change after a strong speech in opposition from Council Member Diane Hofstede. The full council needs to uphold the committee decision on Friday.

DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn represents Minneapolis District 60B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.


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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by C. Dorr on 08/01/2013 - 07:56 am.

    FIXED.Correction on biographical reference for Rep. Phyllis Kahn

    At the end of the article “One Developer Should Not Dictate the Future of Dinkytown”, Rep Kahn is listed as representing Legislative House District 59B. That is old & obsolete information. After the 2010 Census & Redistricting, her district number was changed. Rep. Kahn now represents District 60B. Essentially the same area (NE/SE Mpls, U of M area) but with a new number.

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 08/01/2013 - 08:26 am.

    Hey Phyllis

    One Rep. should not dictate the future of Dinkytown either. This falls under the purview of the City Council, it’s not even under the authority of the legislature. Just like yesterday’s story with Emperor Hann, why can’t State officials leave municipal decisions to the municipality? Geez, it’s not like Kahn, Hann and company don’t have problems of their own to fix. How about getting to work on the stuff entrusted to your body?

  3. Submitted by Alex Bauman on 08/01/2013 - 09:55 am.


    Shame on Phyllis Kahn for perpetuating the lies of the desperate & ignorant Save Dinkytown group. Spot zoning is when a parcel is rezoned into a district that is not supported by guidance from a comprehensive plan. Minneapolis’ last two comp plans designated the parcels in question as Activity Centers. The proposed new zoning district for these same parcels is C3A, officially titled “Community Activity Center District.” The City of Minneapolis makes their comp plan and entire code of ordinances available online for anyone to verify this information. Save Dinkytown and Rep Kahn should take a moment to inform themselves instead of mindlessly impugning the hard work of the talented Minneapolis CPED staff.

  4. Submitted by Monica Millsap on 08/01/2013 - 10:06 am.

    ” The domino effect is real. What will be a plausible excuse to stop the next one? Perhaps in your favorite area?”

    I agree. Living in the Midway, I attended several meetings regarding light rail development. City planners, councilmembers, mayors, developers, lobbyists/advicates- who didn’t live in our neighborhoods- they all told us our neighborhood “needed to be saved.” Light rail was coming to spur growth and to create a high density urban zone. This, despite the resounding sentiment from small businesses and residents that our neighborhood was growing and already a great place to live and do business.

    Our city governments went ahead with rezoning all along the Green Line allowing for what Rep. Kahn now calls “development without a plan.” There are several “affordable” housing projects and non-profits moving in, some displacing long time small businesses in our neighborhoods, too, and affecting the unique diversity of Frogtown and the Midway.

    I hate to see Dinkytown changed so drastically and so quickly, but it isn’t like people weren’t told it was going to happen. If you weren’t outraged when this was being done to your neighbors to the East, why would you think Dinkytown would be exempt?

  5. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 08/01/2013 - 10:50 am.

    Say no to developer greed

    Real estate developers all too often have the run of the place in Minneapolis (almost everywhere of course) and our elected officials are all too often willing to give them the keys. So, thank you to P. Kahn for willing to stand up for values other than those of dictated by money alone.

    Here in my neighborhood of Loring Park on the corner of Oak Grove St. and Clifton Place now sits an appalling eyesore, the new-ish apartment complex. Dull, a deadening gray and black, the jarring, almost afterthought stone facade slapped onto its west side, the clueless planters, its overall design screams mediocrity and the developer’s bottom line. And now we all have to live with this degradation of our visual environment. It’s a public time capsule that contains one unambiguous message to the future: we don’t care about quality, beauty, the architectural history of the neighborhood, or higher architectural values. In Minneapolis what we really respect is the mentality of the philistine with money.

    If the image above of the proposed Dinkytown structure is anything close to the finalized design, one would hope that opposition would be immediate and strong. It has the cheap look of suburban malls, the cookie-cutter design-by-template we see in hundreds of commercially zoned suburbs. It’s another instance of the fast-moving plague of grubby real estate developer values instituting itself as the American design norm.

    In addition to aesthetic values, we should insist on the highest LEED standards for any new development in the city. Given what we know, how can we not do this?

    We can do better, much better, than to allow developers to run over the interests of the people who live here, but we may need better leadership in the city to do so.

    • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 08/01/2013 - 02:55 pm.


      The proposal looks nothing like suburban shopping commercial centers. It actually meets the street with no parking between the doors and the sidewalk. It uses a much higher quality facade for the 2-3 stories on ground level. It mixes uses (commercial and residential) which is extremely rare for suburban developments that rely entirely on the auto to bring customers in. Anyone who thinks buildings from pre-WWII were not just as cookie-cutter as today’s is fooling themselves. Take a look around at the many detached homes in Minneapolis, 90%+ of them with strikingly similar design, look, and feel. Same goes for the thousands of brownstones or 4 story walk-ups in NYC.

      Further, I guarantee you this project will meet or exceed LEED requirements, in the narrow window that LEED can measure a building’s total impact on energy/environment. Beyond that, what is more environmental than having 240+ students living within walking distance of shops, groceries, school, and possibly work (with access to downtown Minneapolis and St Paul by bike/transit)? This far outweighs the slight efficiency gains from triple glazed windows, efficient furnaces, etc.

      I will also ask what people who live here are opposed? The Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association has given its approval for the project. It fits in with the Minneapolis comprehensive plan for use. It provides 5 commercial spaces averaging 1,700 sqft (plus mezzanine).

      The idea that developers have been given the key to the city is ludicrous when you take in to account the number of projects that are shot down and the vast amount of built-environment that is largely left untouched. This is the exact type of infill that can help rectify the terrible auto-centric social engineering that demolished many places in the 1950s in favor of surface parking lots, garages, and freeways. It’s a win all around.

    • Submitted by Adam Miller on 08/01/2013 - 05:40 pm.

      Eye sore?

      I’ve only seen the outside, but the building on Oak Grove looks pretty nice to me. It suffers from its relationship to current architectural fashions, of course, but it also has some interesting details.

      It certainly looks a lot better, and does a lot more for the neighorhood, than the surface parking lot it replaced. Degradation of visual environment? By replacing a surface parking lot?

      The criticism is especially strange given the lack of curb appeal of its neighbor at 335 Oak Grove, the inoffensive but plain Park Terrace Apartments, or the cookie-cutter-from-an-earlier-era 301 Oak Grove.

      But regardless, why do you think that your personal architectural preferences should be imposed on the city?

  6. Submitted by Keith Summers on 08/01/2013 - 11:45 am.

    Here’s a better location anyway…

    Maybe OPUS would be interested in redeveloping the West end of Nicollet Island where Phyliss and her friends all “won” lifetime squatting rights on park board property. Her neighbors across 200 yards of river pay tens of thousands of dollars in annual property taxes while Phyliss is good for a few hundred bucks. I’m sure OPUS could better our return. Ms. Kahn is the ultimate NIMBY as demonstrated during her disgraceful behavior over the DeLaSalle football field: costing the school hundreds of thousands of dollars to build something that now completed is pretty much non-controversial. She continues to stick her nose where it does not belong. A true poster child for term limits.

  7. Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 08/01/2013 - 11:56 am.

    Sorry Phyllis

    I’m normally a fan and friend, but not this time. Either you want to live in a walkable city, or you don’t. Apparently, Phyllis, you’re not in favor of walkable, transit-oriented density? If you want to create a sustainable Minneapolis, replacing surface parking lots with apartments and encouraging people to live in walkable neighborhoods close to where they work and go to school is exactly what you should support. I just don’t understand how you propose to decrease our energy-sucking car-centered urban development pattern without building apartments and condos in the city…

    Also it’s worth mentioning that all the businesses in that block have already moved, closed, or are trying to make other plans. Pat Duffy and Laurel Bauer both *support* this project. (see here for more info on that:

  8. Submitted by Evan Roberts on 08/01/2013 - 12:28 pm.

    Dinkytown is a lovely area, but its charm rests on the people in the area, not any particular building.

    What Opus is proposing with its mixed commercial/residential development would actually restore this block to closer to what it used to look like before buildings were torn down for parking in the 1960s (a direct result of the Minneapolis zoning code requiring off-street parking). In the 1920s and 1930s, for example, this block was densely populated with buildings and had nearly 100 people living on it, above commercial buildings and in houses. Now there is hardly anyone living there.

    Currently this block is 70% surface parking! Opus’ proposal will retain parking (underground) at substantial construction expense. It is the demands for parking that make construction (and thus rents) more expensive.

    People should also know that the land owners want to sell, and want to see the Opus development happen. Why should the city stand in the way of private property owners willing to make a deal.

  9. Submitted by Adam Miller on 08/01/2013 - 05:23 pm.

    One developer?

    I’m not sure how Rep. Kahn has failed to erase the role of the city counsel and its staff, and interested constituents, both in considering this proposal and future proposals.

    I’m also not sure why people seem to find a slippery slope argument persuasive here. If there are going to be future proposals to tear down Al’s or the Varsity, there is a time and place to fight those proposals.

    But this project involves empty buildings and surface parking lots. Why should they be preserved?

    Dinkytown and its surrounding neighborhood have been a ghetto for college students for a very long time. Lately, there’s been some progress toward substantially improving the housing stock, which was decrepit when I lived in there 15 years ago. Actually having some people in the area who are not poor students is a step in the right direction.

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