Plans to put a hotel in the heart of the University of Minnesota’s storied Dinkytown have been scuttled after the City Council voted Friday to block demolition of a modest commercial building standing in its way.
The 8-4 vote was the first major development decision of the new council, many of whom ran on pro-density platforms. Developer Kelly Doran has proposed demolishing 1319 4th St. SE., a 1920s brick building currently home to Mesa Pizza and Camdi restaurant, plus two other buildings to make way for a six-story hotel.
Doran said afterward that the hotel project is “over for now,” since it is not economically feasible to work around the existing building, which he called dilapidated. He added that keeping the building would eliminate the ability to build underground parking beneath it, a key issue for the neighborhood.
“Any area that doesn’t evolve and grow eventually decays and dies,” he said. “Dinkytown is decaying and people don’t want to acknowledge that.”
Rather than demolishing the building, the city will instead study it to determine if it qualifies for historic designation, a process that could take upward of a year.
“Dinkytown … is one of the last remaining old-school commercial corridors in our entire city,” said Jacob Frey, who represents the area and voted to block the demolition. “When I say old-school commercial corridors I’m talking about small, tightly situated one- and two-story buildings that do contribute to an overarching bohemian character.”
He added that increased density is already coming to the neighborhood, in the form of more than 2,000 apartments that have recently been built.
Lisa Bender, the chair of the city’s zoning and planning committee, said city plans focus growth along transit corridors, most of which are former streetcar corridors.
“I’m concerned about our staff resources and the development framework that we’re creating in our city,” said Bender, who supported demolition. “It is a big deal to add one year to 18 months to any project along a transit corridor in our city.”
Council Member Andrew Johnson said the quasi-judicial nature of this vote requires that the council examine the historic nature of the property itself, rather than its context. “Neither the staff nor [the Heritage Preservation Commission], nor any of the people testifying, nor any council members mentioned that they saw value in this individual property in terms of warranting a historical study on this specific property,” he said.
Frey pointed out some activities that have occurred at the property, including its role as an antiwar activist organizational hub from the 1960s to the 1980s. That block was also the site of a famous clash between protesters and police over a restaurant in 1970.
Council members who voted to preserve the building were John Quincy, Abdi Warsame, Frey, Linea Palmisano, Goodman, Alondra Cano, Kevin Reich and Barb Johnson. Those supporting the demolition were Bender, Elizabeth Glidden, Blong Yang and Johnson. Cam Gordon was not present.
The council approved demolition of the other buildings needed for the hotel, 1315 4th St. SE. and 410 13th Av. SE.
Goodman suggested the developer consider building the hotel around the 1319 4th St. building. “I don’t think it’s an either-or situation,” she said.