Megatown or Dinkytown?
As a teenager, The Podium owner Jeff Molde would sneak out of his house and steal off to Dinkytown to listen to local music.
Laurel Bauer’s has worked at House of Hanson, a family business, since she was 12.
Now, after more than 100 years of combined operation, their two businesses, along with Book House, will close to make way for a new apartment complex. Some will close temporarily, some maybe for good.
According to House of Hanson owner Bauer, although no money has changed hands yet, the building’s three owners have signed purchase agreements with the Opus Group.
The developers, who built Stadium Village Flats, plan to build a six-floor apartment complex with a ground floor of retail space on the site on Fifth Street between 13th and 14th Avenues.
It’s a matter of time before House of Hanson will need to close shop for good, Bauer said, but she’s unsure what the other two businesses will do.
Molde said he found out about the project from a Dinkytown Business Association newsletter a few weeks ago.
“They had all the landowners under confidentiality agreements, which has created a very difficult situation for all of us,” Book House owner Kristen Eide-Tollefson said. “It was a very rude, quick awakening.”
For now, the business owners will need to relocate until the complex is built, when they are invited to use the new commercial space, Bauer said.
Matt Rauenhorst of Opus said it’s too early to say when construction would start.
Arvonne Fraser, co-chair of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association’s land-use committee, said the project has received criticism from the community in early meetings.
“We had over 30 people,” she said, “and a lot of them are upset about it.”
Already, conversations about affordability, parking and maintaining Dinkytown character emerged in meetings led by the MHNA.
Fraser said she understands the possible friction between the new project and existing business owners.
“They want to keep the current character of Dinkytown,” she said. “That’s hard to do with all the demand for land around the city.”
Eide-Tollefson said she’s opposed to the kind of development the Opus project represents.
“It’s really important for Dinkytown to not be overtaken by redevelopment momentum,” she said, “in which we have very little say and which we give our land-owners and businesses very few options.”
Rauenhorst said Opus plans to continue attending MHNA and DBA meetings and working with the community.
Community reaction can influence city council members and how they vote on the project’s details, city planner Haila Maze said.
Before Opus can break ground, it’ll have to upgrade the area’s zoning.
Because of the high density of the project, the developer may need to request to change the zoning to a higher level commercial district, Maze said.
But the possibility of “up-zoning” has some people concerned.
Gordon Kepner, a former University of Minnesota professor and MHNA board member, said the current zoning is meant to protect Dinkytown’s character.
“The key thing is that it’s supposed to be small businesses,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be high rises everywhere and glass-fronted chains.”
Kepner said he worries about the consequences of allowing a developer to build a complex in the area.
Once one developer is allowed to build there, he said, many others will follow.
“It’s not going to be Dinkytown,” Kepner said, “it’s going to be Rinky-Dinkytown.”
Maze said while there’s no simple answer to keeping a neighborhood’s character, preserving older buildings and historical landmarks could be a solution.
Eide-Tollefson said she expects the community to rally to save the character of the neighborhood.
“Dinkytown is everybody’s place,” she said. “It doesn’t belong to the businesses; it belongs to everybody … and it’s very special in that way.”
Parking is down, prices are up
Bauer said she already felt pressure to close House of Hanson amid rumors of a grocery store opening across the street.
“I basically feel that I am being pushed into this,” she said.
The Opus project is heightening existing tensions in Dinkytown, including concerns about parking and property values. Now that Opus will be purchasing the parking lots behind the businesses, those concerns have only grown.
For specialty shops like The Podium, parking is essential for out-of-town shoppers, Molde said.
He said he’s looking to move his business out of Dinkytown partially because of the parking issue.
“It’s going to basically force us out of Dinkytown because there’s no alternative.”
Bauer said she doesn’t believe parking is an issue because her lot is often near empty.
Others are worried that the development will drive up rent in the surrounding area.
“Simple economics are when you build a new building, the rent will be higher,” Maze said.
Eide-Tollefson said after meeting with an independent consultant for Opus, she was told that if she moved back into the project’s commercial space, the rent would be three to five times what she currently pays.
Higher rent could force small business owners to close shop, she said, or force them to drive up their prices — which could repel student customers.
“It would really change the face and the economics of Dinkytown,” she said.
While the plans for the project are tentative and still forming, Dinkytown is preparing for the impact.
DBA President Skott Johnson and MHNA President Doug Carlson are teaming up to head a task force to study the possible issues.
Book House formed a Facebook group against the project titled Dinkytown Not Megatown.
For now, the three businesses will need to close, but House of Hanson will close permanently. Eide-Tollefson and Molde are still unsure of what their next steps will be.
“We had three to five years of bridge-building and ups and downs in the business climate and the economic recession, but this is really big,” Eide-Tollefson said.
“This is probably our biggest challenge yet.”