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Dinkytown.

Bre Mcgee, Star Tribune

Dinkytown community near U of Minn. faces changes

  • Article by: Marion Renault and Nicolas Hallett
  • Associated Press
  • November 19, 2013 - 11:05 AM

MINNEAPOLIS — When University of Minnesota students returned to campus this fall, half a block of Dinkytown was gone.

That site will house a six-story apartment complex next year. Across the street, another student housing project is already under construction. Doran Companies has proposed yet another development in the heart of Dinkytown.

As the neighborhood faces some of the most drastic changes in its history, the community is divided over preserving character or restoring vitality.

But heated discussions have often left out those with the most tangible power — the people who actually own the land.

Often faceless and sometimes entire states away, these property owners ultimately decide which tenants fill the area's storefronts and who can buy Dinkytown real estate.

More than half of Dinkytown property owners surveyed by the Minnesota Daily (http://bit.ly/1gJWNOW ) said they've been approached by a developer interested in their land. Of Dinkytown's 25 property owners, eight declined to participate in this story or didn't respond to repeated interview requests.

Developers have been nosing around for decades, said Gary Eidson, co-owner of three Dinkytown properties since 1990, but he's noticed keener interest in the last five years.

That's mainly because developers have discovered a lucrative and seemingly bottomless student housing market.

Steps from the university and bursting with businesses, Dinkytown is an ideal backdrop for complexes that address a pent-up demand for housing close to campus.

Minneapolis principal planner Haila Maze said the City Council is eager to see those kinds of projects built. Its approval of two Dinkytown projects and denial of a proposed freeze on development speaks to that, she said.

City-hired consultant Paul Bilotta said developers are targeting Dinkytown because they've already exhausted other areas like Stadium Village.

"The cannons have come around to your side," Bilotta said at a meeting of Dinkytown business owners in October.

About half of the buildings in Dinkytown were built before 1930.

Frank Vescio's roots date back to 1956, when his father first opened the family's Italian restaurant.

Today, Vescio is one of Dinkytown's last "lifers." He's watched the area change from a mom-and-pop shop hub to the bustling entertainment district it is today.

Vescio, a University alumnus and perennial men's hockey season-ticket holder, said countless sports figures have come through his restaurant over the years.

In the '80s, former Minnesota Twin and World Series MVP Frank Viola ate at Vescio's the day before each game of a record-breaking winning streak, earning the restaurant a shout-out in Sports Illustrated.

"It's been fun," Vescio said. "We've gotten to know a lot of great people."

While he's collected 57 years worth of warm memories, Vescio said the future of his family's long-standing eatery will fall to his children.

Just down the block, Roland "Rolly" Reidhead is debating the fate of his own 108-year-old building. He's not actively looking to sell, but he said the offers that come in every couple of months are getting harder to refuse.

Reidhead said the building housing Gold Country Apparel has been in his family for five generations. During his time at the University, he lived in the building's second-floor apartments.

But the building has worn down over time, he said, and could benefit from reinvestment.

"The developers have that ability," Reidhead said. "They can invest long term and show the returns. My belief is that they are not going to hurt the area, but help the area."

Reidhead said he understands the controversy over the apartment buildings under construction nearby.

"That's like saying that new cars are better than old cars," he said. "To some people they are, and to some people they aren't."

Laurel Bauer ended her family's 80-year Dinkytown history when she sold the House of Hanson grocery store and other properties for $4.27 million.

Last summer, Richard Schaak, whose father started Schaak Electronics in 1957, sold the building housing Espresso Royale to the president of Green Mill Restaurants for $1.65 million.

And Jeffrey Meyers signed an agreement with Doran Companies to sell the building housing Mesa Pizza, Dinkytown Tattoo and Camdi Restaurant. When he was 12, Meyers began working in the building at his father's barbershop.

Bauer, Schaak and Meyers are a few who have ended their Dinkytown lineage.

Meyers said his family's history didn't factor into the decision to sell.

"It's business," he said. "(My parents) definitely thought I should sell, also."

Over his 25 years in Dinkytown, Meyers said the area has lost its character. Interest from developers is a chance for the area to get a facelift, he said.

"A lot of (family businesses) have been gone for a long time — including my father's," he said. "I don't think there's any charm. . Dinkytown needs a shot of adrenaline."

Bauer said she struck a deal with developer Opus Group after turning down countless other offers during her 17 years as a property owner.

Three years ago, Bauer said she "absolutely" wouldn't consider leaving Dinkytown. But when a new CVS Pharmacy opened and a nearby building was razed, House of Hanson lost customers.

"It was just getting more and more difficult to keep my doors open," Bauer said.

Bauer got her first job behind those doors 44 years ago, opening pop bottles and putting out candy under her grandmother's watchful eye.

She only recently stopped crying when she passes the site where House of Hanson used to be, she said.

Bauer said she knew she'd be the last in her family to run the grocery store.

"It would have been a much more difficult decision to sell if my children were interested in running (it)," she said.

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by the Minnesota Daily

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