City Council to vote on historic designation

Eric Swanson

The Minneapolis City Council will discuss and vote Friday on whether to assign historic designations to several fraternity and sorority houses near the University.

The council vote is the last step in a yearlong process to decide if the houses should be historically preserved.

Most of the University’s greek community has opposed the designation, fearing higher repair and renovation costs. But fraternities around the nation have felt mixed effects from historical designation and their opinions are as varied.

Some said government should not be involved in preserving private property. Others say historic designation ensures the preservation of their organizations and buildings.

If the City Council determines the greek houses have historic value, it will mean property owners will have to clear any significant exterior renovations with the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission to fit historic standards specific to each house.

In Lincoln, Neb., the Delta Eta chapter house of the Sigma Nu fraternity was put on the state historic registry last fall at the fraternity’s request.

“We wanted the house on the state registry to ensure its preservation and hopefully attain some financing in the form of grants in the future,” said Dave Albers, Sigma Nu alumnus at Lincoln. “We saw the designation as a positive.”

The Sigma Nu fraternity recently renovated portions of the house to attain the original 1919 feel, said Adam Brinkman, treasurer for the Sigma Nu fraternity in Lincoln.

Other greek houses around the nation are in the same situation as the Lincoln-based fraternity.

Fraternities in cities including Madison, Wis., and Lafayette, Pa., have successfully lobbied for historic designation.

However, other greek organizations said they are struggling with cost issues because of historic preservation. They said there have been added renovation costs and problems associated with selling their houses.

Two years ago, the Omega Tau Sigma fraternity in Urbana, Ill., tried to sell its fraternity house after a fire. Because of the historic significance of the house, after the fire the city of Urbana designated the house historic. This made the house repair costs too high for the fraternity, and consequently, offers on the purchase of the house were significantly less.

“The historic designation definitely hurt us in this situation. After the city imposed designation, the offers we got for the house dropped considerably,” Omega Tau Sigma alumnus Dr. Richard Wallace said.

The fraternity lost money because of the designation, but has since moved to a new location in a nonhistoric house.

At Montana State University-Bozeman, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity recently sold their historic house to the city because they could not afford the renovation costs. They also recently moved to a newer, nonhistoric house.

Last week, the Minneapolis City Council Zoning and Planning Committee unanimously approved the historic designation, sending the issue of the designation before the entire 13-member council to decide Friday.