Neighbors seek greater University involvement amid Dinkytown development

A proposed high-density development on the Dinkytown McDonald’s site helped spark conversations.

The McDonald's located on the corner of Fourth Street Southeast and 15th Avenue Southeast is seen on Saturday, Aug. 31. The proposed development would replace Mcdonald's as well as other popular businesses such as Dinkytown Wine and Spirits.

Jack Rodgers

The McDonald’s located on the corner of Fourth Street Southeast and 15th Avenue Southeast is seen on Saturday, Aug. 31. The proposed development would replace Mcdonald’s as well as other popular businesses such as Dinkytown Wine and Spirits.

Caitlin Anderson

Off-campus neighbors are asking for more involvement from University of Minnesota officials in the student housing conversation.

Members of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association said input from campus administration would help advance student interests, including affordable housing, in future developments. The issue was sparked by a proposal in August by CA Ventures for a high-density Dinkytown apartment complex at the McDonald’s site.

“The University is missing from the table,” said James Farnsworth, a Minnesota Student Association representative to the MHNA board of directors. “People want more engagement with the University on these issues that really impact students.”

The neighborhood association is currently exploring plans to express this sentiment to the Board of Regents and University President Joan Gabel through either a letter or informal meetings, he said.

Regent Michael Hsu said he would be receptive to greater involvement.

“Student housing is important … there are lots of students [who] live close,” he said. “We should be at the table.” 

How exactly the University could be involved in housing developments, including the recent CA Ventures proposal, is still unclear. Historically, the University has had a foggy relationship with nearby neighborhoods.

In 2014, the Board of Regents signed a resolution to be more involved in the surrounding community. Some neighbors said they hadn’t seen much involvement since, especially on development issues.

“The spirit of that resolution … will inform our approach as well,” Farnsworth said.

Two years later, a task force comprised of 38 University stakeholders set an agenda on furthering public engagement over five years. In a 2019 report, this task force laid down an action plan for doing so.

The University District Alliance, a partnership between University officials and community stakeholders, has been slow to reorganize since it paused operations in December of last year.

University officials said while they typically do not play a role in private developments near campus, they are still interested in pursuing more opportunities to do so.  

“This is an area where I’m catching up and learning about our role as a neighbor … We’re committed to being a good neighbor, but that doesn’t have a universal signature or definition,” Gabel said in a recent interview with the Minnesota Daily. “We have worked really closely to build bridges with … our surrounding communities.”

The Road Map for the Future of Greater Dinkytown, a partnership between MHNA, the University and other stakeholders, outlines goals for greater engagement amid increasing development.

Kristen Eide-Tollefson, a coordinator with Preserve Historic Dinkytown who works on the initiative, said she has also been working with the University’s Off-Campus Living to foster greater connections.

“Because one of our intentions is to create a sustainable civic engagement infrastructure for Greater Dinkytown and the students, we know we’re going to need the help of the University to do that,” she said. 

Dylan Anderson contributed to this report.