In defense of Dinkytown businesses

A proposed apartment complex in Dinkytown threatens the livelihood of everyone’s favorite neighborhood.

A person walks in Dinkytown on May 8, 2014.

Daily File Photo

A person walks in Dinkytown on May 8, 2014.

Daily Editorial Board

In 1970 University of Minnesota students could take a short stroll down 4th Street SE in Dinkytown and experience the whole gamut of local, ma-and-pa enterprises — grocers, sundry bookshops, bakeries, even an aptly-named but now-shuttered coffeehouse called “Ten O’clock Scholar.”

Throughout Dinkytown’s many metamorphoses in the past half-century, storeowners have unhinged their signs, boxed their goods, and left behind blank storefronts for the next crop of entrepreneurship — but their histories are immortalized in the wistful memories of many who frequented their shops.

For most, Dinkytown — and its businesses — are integral parts of the University of Minnesota experience.

But for the past three years, the diverse commercial community in Dinkytown has been threatened by a continued spate of luxury student-housing development. And many, if not all, of these projects have been orchestrated by profiteering property management companies that see the student-dominated, University of Minnesota locale as a lucrative market worth plundering.

In September, four mainstay businesses in Stadium Village — Big 10 Restaurant and Bar, Village Wok, Espresso Expose and Bun Mi Sandwiches — were forced to close in order to make way for a 27-story apartment complex. Now, two businesses in Dinkytown may meet the same fate.

At a Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association meeting Tuesday night, Daniel Oberpriller of CPM Companies — a Minneapolis development firm that manages over 1 million square feet of student-housing around campus — presented a proposal for a new, 16-floor apartment complex in central Dinkytown. If approved, the apartment building would effectively displace Mesa Pizza and Chatime Bubble Tea.

In many ways, the parasitic seizure of Dinkytown by the housing development sector mirrors events in 1970. In that year a national fast-food chain — Red Barn — planned to raze a whole swath of buildings in Dinkytown. In response, aggrieved University students occupied the block — attempting to stave off the demolition of historic Dinkytown.

At Tuesday’s meeting, James Sander of Kafe 421 responded to the proposed high-rise: “You just ate up Dinkytown with this.”

We must defend Dinkytown’s quirkiness, its folklore and its history from further housing development. At this turning point, it is important to remember that this development isn’t inevitable. If we don’t make our voices heard, our favorite Dinkytown shops may only survive in photographs.