Kelly Doran is a headstrong guy. The son of working-class single mom, Doran, 55, worked nights and weekends in a liquor store to earn undergraduate and graduate business degrees at the University of Minnesota.
He has built over the last decade, without subsidy, about $215 million worth of high-quality Minneapolis housing and commercial projects that replaced a lot of substandard housing and surface parking lots. Those projects will produce about $4 million in property taxes next year.
On Friday, Doran’s planned Dinkytown residential-retail project narrowly avoided a development moratorium that was rejected last week by a divided Minneapolis City Council. So instead of being sidelined for up to six months, any critics of Doran’s project can come forward through the regular planning-and-zoning process.
“This did feel a little personal,” Doran said of the moratorium bid after the vote.
For example, a larger development by Opus on the same block already has been approved. But some neighbors have started a “Save Dinkytown” movement.
Council Member Gary Schiff, who chairs the Zoning and Planning Committee, said to hold up Doran’s project via moratorium hearings just as the veteran Minneapolis developer was about to present his application and proceed with the planning-and-approval process would put politics ahead of policy and process.
“We know this is targeted to stop Kelly Doran,” Schiff said. “There are no other plans coming forward.”
Doran has experience building in Dinkytown. Four years ago, in the depths of the Great Recession, Doran put down a whopping $10.8 million to jump-start his long-delayed $36 million renovation of the iconic “Minnesota Dinkydome” office-retail complex in Dinkytown and an adjacent 125-unit apartment building. Today that project is a solid success.
At the 2009 groundbreaking, Doran was feted by union officials, politicians and a few dozen workers among the hundreds who would work on the yearlong project that became a symbol that something could actually get done amid a sea of fear, despair and idled construction workers.
Raising capital has come easier for Doran and other developers since then.
Diane Hofstede, the council member behind the moratorium, is in a tough re-election bid. And Doran has been picketed for occasionally hiring nonunion subcontractors on some jobs. Some Dinkytown neighbors don’t want any more multistory buildings. Hofstede said her only interest was giving the neighborhood more time and a full say.
Said Doran: “We’ve always demonstrated … a willingness to listen and work with the neighborhood groups and the business associations. We’re going to go through the process and listen and take the good input and it could take months and months. We build good projects that we manage and own. It is our goal to build a project that will … enhance the character of this iconic neighborhood.”
There will be critics of Doran’s proposal to demolish two small buildings and what is mostly surface parking lots near the intersection of 4th Street and 14th Avenue SE. in Dinkytown to build a six-story complex with underground parking.
Owners are ready to sell
The two owners of the small commercial buildings and lots have agreed to sell to Doran. City officials say the Dinkytown area is ripe for more housing and commercial density.
That also means more property taxes for a city that knows it can only grow by building multilevel projects in neighborhoods such as downtown, the Warehouse District, the Mississippi riverfront, Uptown and Dinkytown. The residential and commercial demand is there.
Sometimes, life gets tougher as times get better.
Doran said Hofstede never brought up any moratorium when he was going over his latest Dinkytown plans with her several weeks ago. Hofstede, a labor stalwart, said she was only listening to the concerns of the neighbors.
“Our Minneapolis projects have created thousands of construction and other jobs and we use 90 percent-plus union labor,” Doran said.
There are buildings worth preserving in Dinkytown for historical reasons. These two probably don’t fit that category. Doran intends to replace the retail space with his usual mix of local and chain merchants.
And Schiff is right. The monthslong regular planning-and-review process will provide plenty of time and opportunity for critics to have their say.