Dinkytown soon to sport new landscape attraction

by Michelle Moriarity

More than two years after the demolition of Dinkytown’s University Shops Annex, grounds officials are turning the vacant lot adjacent to Donhowe Building into a student-designed landscape attraction.
Construction started early this month for a triangle-shaped park area at the intersection of 14th and University avenues in Dinkytown.
The park will be simply landscaped; plans call for low-maintenance grass and bushes. Facilities Management officials said strategic lighting and benches will create a hospitable atmosphere.
“It’s been talked about for quite a few years,” said Ray Jackson, a Facilities Management senior engineer.
The University Shops Annex housed several University departments, including Facilities Management.
Administrators decided to eliminate the building and move the departments to the former University YMCA building on 15th Avenue about five years ago. Even though they planned an open green space in its wake, the site has remained a fenced-in, vacant lot since the annex was demolished.
Grounds superintendent Les Potts approached horticulture associate professor Brad Pedersen last year, requesting a student design for the space. The task fell into the hands of Diana Alfuth, who is pursuing a master’s degree in horticulture with an emphasis on landscape design.
Alfuth is one of many design and architecture students who, through directed study, provide designs to University and local organizations.
Within the past year, University students’ designs have materialized in such places as the Minnesota Zoo and the Bell Museum of Natural History.
The experience, she said, is beneficial for both the designer and the University.
“We’re not just doing fictitious designs,” Alfuth said. “They’re real designs. I think that’s one of the nice things about being a landscape designer.”
The University, she added, saved money since officials did not need to hire a contractor for the site.
For Potts, however, the addition of an aesthetically pleasing area is also a strong benefit for the University.
“I think it’s really going to make a difference,” Potts said. “It will really do a lot to improve the looks of the University.”
Potts said after several years of administrative negotiation he is happy the project is moving forward.
“I think it’ll be a very nice connection,” Potts said, noting that the space is the first spot at which passers-by encounter University property on both sides of University Avenue.
Because the property borders the local business district, Dinkytown Business Association members have also followed the development.
Association president Dan Zielske said after consulting with University Facilities Management, he is confident business owners will embrace the new plaza.
“Green space is sort of a more welcome link to Dinkytown,” Zielske said. “We’re happy that something is happening besides an ugly eyesore.”