University district neighborhoods seek historic designation

Historic designation in areas around the University of Minnesota has become a desired asset to some and an annoying problem for others. Prospect Park has applied for national and local historic designation for the entire neighborhood, while Southeast Como is still in the early stages of identifying properties for potential historic designation. In order for a property to receive historical designation, it has to be approved by federal or local historical preservation committees. Gaining this historical status allows a neighborhood to preserve structures, promote the area and, in some cases, garner tax breaks. Prospect Park recently applied for national and local historic designation for all of the more than 600 dwellings in the neighborhood, a process that will conclude in the spring. If successful, it will be the largest national historic district in Minnesota . Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association âÄôs Livability Committee Chairman Joe Ring said the intent of seeking the historical designation is to manage the use of the buildings and the land in the neighborhood. He said it would not put a stop to conversions, but it would make it far more difficult. Ring said historical designation in the neighborhood started in 1997 when the WitchâÄôs Hat Water Tower and Tower Hill Park were given national designation, while the tower also received local designation. Following the designation, Ring said vandalism and graffiti at the park dropped by 80 percent. âÄú[The change] was just dramatic,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs a psychological thing, people perceive this differently and theyâÄôre less likely to deface something that has historic significance of some kind âĦ before this was done, to them it was just another old water tower.âÄù He said this is when the neighborhood started to understand that there could be benefits to the community and that there was the possibility that Prospect Park could be a historic district. Southeast Como Neighborhood Coordinator James De Sota said their reason for seeking historic designation is to promote the neighborhood. He said outsiders think the neighborhood is just student housing. âÄúThere actually are a lot of significant homes and turn-of-the-century structures throughout the neighborhood,âÄù De Sota said. Melissa Bean, director of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, said there are three historic districts in Marcy Holmes. St. Anthony Falls , Fifth Street Southeast and most recently the Greek Letter Chapter Houses, as well as some individual properties, all have historic designation. All of the houses on fraternity row, including the University Students Cooperative , were given historic designation in the early 2000âÄôs, which has limited any potential changes to the exterior of the buildings. Lynn Swon , president of the Coalition for Non-profit Student Housing , said the greek houses were only designated as historic after Delta Tau Delta wanted to remodel the exterior of its house in 2004. Swon said instead of granting the request, the city chose to commission an historic designation survey, which ended with the designation of most greek houses at the University. The biggest problem that came from this is that no new fraternity or sorority houses can be built in Minneapolis and houses cannot be bought for a greek chapter, unless it was occupied by another greek organization the previous year, Swon said. She said the proposed Greek Village would solve this problem because a chapter could purchase a section of the village instead of getting a house. Swon said the city denied their opposition to the historical designation. âÄúTo me it was a huge surprise that if you adamantly worked against it, they didnâÄôt care,âÄù she said. The historical designation means that the appearance of the exterior of all these houses must be maintained. Laurel Cutright , a resident at the University student co-op, said because of the houseâÄôs historic designation they have to work with what they have. âÄúThe exterior of our house is stucco, and stucco is just not the best building material in the world and it tends to crumble and be annoying and ugly,âÄù Cutright said. âÄúItâÄôs sort of a hassle for upkeep and we canâÄôt change that.âÄù