Last month, several Dinkytown businesses located to the right of the Varsity Theater on the corner of 13th Avenue Southeast were informed by their landlord that they would have to leave by mid-summer. Some of the businesses, like Dinkytown Optical, have been operating in our beloved college neighborhood since 1972. The actual building itself is much older; it was built in 1921 and was designated by the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission as a part of the Dinkytown Commercial Historic District. The HPC would have to approve any demolition or construction to the building.
No one knows yet what will happen to the property. The landlord has declined to comment, so the displaced businesses have been left scrambling to find new locations.
Detronza Kirksey, the owner of the Milo’s on Fourth barbershop, told the Daily that “Our lives depend on [the businesses]. Everybody’s lives depend on this, and these locations are all independent locations.” Their coming eviction in summer has tossed Kirksey, their fellow tenants and their employees into a washing machine of financial uncertainty. If Kirksey would like to stick around in Dinkytown, he is stuck competing for the limited commercial spaces Minneapolis has designated around 4th Street and University Avenue.
The neighborhood’s limited commercial zoning is well-intentioned — it makes sure businesses clump together in a coherent district — but, in our current building boom, Dinkytown’s zoning hasn’t kept up, leaving the historic neighborhood threatened by an influx of new money.
Under Dinkytown’s current zoning, much of the lucrative land west of the main commercial strip on 14th Avenue is zoned as residential. Dinkytown does need more housing to help bring down prices, but new construction should be mixed use, not purely residential, like what has been built on the outskirts of the commercial district. The solely residential construction that current zoning supports constrains Dinkytown’s economic potential.
The Knoll apartment complex is an example of this. As one walks west along University Avenue, away from Pleasant Street, it sits as a gateway to residential Dinkytown and its grid of decaying mansions that have been home to Gophers for years. It's also conveniently across from two residence halls (Wilkins and Sanford Halls) and a University Circulator stop. Yet, unlike much of the new construction in Stadium Village or Dinkytown, the first floor isn’t a commercial space. The Knoll’s zoning forces it to be underutilized when it would otherwise be the perfect place for another retail location.
Changing Dinkytown’s zoning isn’t farfetched. Businesses would definitely support a policy that reduces their property costs. Additionally, Marcy-Holmes’ current master plan suggests amending the city’s current comprehensive plan to enlarge Dinkytown’s commercial zone. The change has support from the neighborhood. Ward 3 City Council member Steve Fletcher should introduce an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan to ensure that our beloved Dinkytown businesses do not end up displaced.