Dinkytown, USA, the unique historic small-business district in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood near the University of Minnesota, is targeted for destruction.

The Opus Development Company, part of the Rauenhorst Trusts, wants to tear down The Podium, The Book House, House of Hanson and other small businesses in order to build a six-story upscale “dormitory-style” complex affordable to well-off university students.

To do so, the developer needs Minneapolis City Council members to approve an arguably illegal “spot zoning” change from “C1” (small-scale neighborhood commercial uses) to “C3A” (higher-density, mixed-use commercial and housing) for a roughly half-block area of Dinkytown.

The Save Dinkytown movement opposes this change. It seeks to preserve the historic and eclectic character of the four-block Dinkytown commercial district. The independent local merchants and distinctive appeal of this cherished community commercial and cultural center will disappear without the public’s help.

Suppose Opus gets what it wants. Rezoning this key property paves the way for all of Dinkytown to be rezoned. Other developers will jump in to rezone other blocks there. Gone could be such treasured businesses as Al’s Breakfast, Magus Books & Herbs, Kafe 421 and Vescio’s. All could fall prey to the next developer’s rental towers. Once rezoning to higher density is allowed, future development is virtually unrestrained. We will watch helplessly as the “march of the towers” obliterates Dinkytown.

Allowing such spot zoning also creates a precedent that threatens other C1 neighborhood commercial nodes. If we don’t act now, Dinkytown will disappear forever — on our watch. And, yes, your neighborhood’s small-business district could be next.

Dinkytown has been, is and should continue to be a historic cultural treasure for all Minnesotans. Bob Dylan referred to “The University of Dinkytown.” Countless students have passed through it. Countless more could do so, if it were still there for them. To be preserved, it needs to keep the protection of C1 zoning, as does any deeply rooted neighborhood business district in Minneapolis.

This development issue is about the history and character of a neighborhood, its values, and what each neighborhood wants to preserve and protect.

Everyone understands that carefully planned mixed-use housing and commercial development has a role to play in any city’s growth. Its best use is in economically depressed neighborhoods where revitalization depends on bringing in both new businesses and new residents.

Dinkytown is not such a place. There is already a glut of new rental housing going up along 4th Street, University Avenue and 15th Avenue in southeast Minneapolis. The Marcy-Holmes master plan specifically envisioned such development on these major transit corridors. That plan explicitly states that Dinkytown should continue to provide for small, locally owned businesses and cultural amenities, not housing.

Moreover, spot zoning is a political issue and most definitely a proper subject for public comment. Every council member should be asked publicly: “Will you take into account the public interest, neighborhood master plans, and the opinions of all neighborhood residents in evaluating such developments? Will you support preserving and protecting the cultural, historical and aesthetic qualities of neighborhood commercial districts that attracted people and businesses to Minneapolis and our diverse neighborhoods?”

Help stop this tragedy in the making. You can visit us at Save Dinkytown.com to sign our online petition opposing this development and find out how you can help. Discuss it with your friends on Facebook. E-mail Mayor R.T. Rybak and ask him to notify the council members of your view. Minneapolis residents can contact their council members directly.

University students and graduates should let the school’s president, Eric Kaler, and its regents know that every alumnus, in Minnesota and nationwide, deserves to be alerted about this issue and given a chance to weigh in.

What matters is the unique historic character of every neighborhood. When developers seek to provoke fundamental changes to the character of a neighborhood that doesn’t need or want them, we need to tell our council members to tighten the reins and just say “Whoa.”


Matt Hawbaker is coordinator for Save Dinkytown.