U acquires ownership interest in Dinnaken

by Ahnalese Rushmann

The ownership interest in Dinnaken Properties, a gift to the University Foundation, will not affect residents of Dinnaken’s four near-campus housing complexes.

The interest in Dinnaken Properties, LLC – valued at more than $27 million – was a notable chunk of the University’s record $251 million in donations collected last fiscal year. The gift, given by the estate of James Cargill, is one of the single largest the University has ever received.

Yvonne Grosulak, vice president of Dinnaken Properties, said the ownership change won’t affect residents of the properties, which include the Dinnaken and Argyle Houses.

“We’ve always done student housing,” she said.

Grosulak said ownership is the only change and it doesn’t reflect increased University effort to create more student-living options.

“I don’t see that there’s going to be any more housing that will be any different than what’s here now,” she said.

Gerald Fischer, president and CEO of the foundation, which raises money for the University campuses, said the ownership interest wasn’t discussed with Cargill prior to his 2006 death.

“He could’ve sold it to another developer, he could’ve given it to another nonprofit organization,” he said. “He wanted to be sure it continued to serve students.”

He said the foundation will be the dominant but “passive” owner of the properties, meaning it won’t affect management.

“It’s so important that we have high quality housing available to students,” Fischer said.

“By having quality student housing adjacent to the University, run by a high-quality private management company,” he said, “I think that is serving students and helping the foundation fulfill its mission.”

Paul Scheurer, a Southeast Erie Street resident, said more University ownership in the neighborhood raises concern about the University’s presence in that area.

“It’s a question of how things are handled in the neighborhood,” he said. “If we get some more public safety in the neighborhood because the University police are more active, then it’s a good thing.”

Jan Morlock, director of community relations for the Twin Cities campus, said the University recently conducted a study focusing on the University’s role in neighborhoods adjacent to campus, such as Prospect Park.

There’s been a transition in much of the nearby housing from home ownership to investor-ownership setups, she said. Unkempt properties are just one consequence of this, Morlock said.

She said the Dinnaken Housing ownership change doesn’t signal University intent to create more student-living options in that neighborhood.

Recently, most student housing has been created by the private sector, without University encouragement, she said.

Doug Meeker has lived on Southeast Erie Street for 20 years with his wife and three sons – the only family on his block, he said.

Meeker said he hopes the University honors the “feel” of the area as they acquire more property.

“You don’t want to lose the integrity of that neighborhood,” he said.

Last February, the University bought four lots at Oak and Fulton streets Southeast, collectively known as Block 11.

Susan Weinberg, University director of real estate, said the University informed Block 11 property owners the University is willing to appraise and bid on their properties. This has all been done on ethical terms, she said.

“We have not specifically advised any property owner that they must sell to us ‘or else,’ ” Weinberg said. The University hasn’t yet named a specific project for the area.

Morlock said the University will make efforts to collaborate with community members about any changes in their neighborhoods.

“We want to have early and consistent communication with property owners and the people around there,” she said.