Neighborhood reattracts U students

Cedar-Riverside is one of the most diverse parts of the city, a resident said.

Emily Kaiser

As Peter Dodge sat late Tuesday night in the Hard Times Cafe, he discussed the history of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and how it has changed in the last 35 years he spent there.

Dodge, who owns several buildings in the area, said the neighborhood is one of the most diverse parts of the city and students are finally starting to come back to the area.

Dodge said that when the Carlson School of Management building was built in 1999, the University was turning its back on the neighborhood and making it easier for students to stay away from it.

The Carlson School building was built with no exit on the side facing the Cedar-Riverside businesses, he said.

“For a few years, that blocked students from knowing about us,” he said.

David Markle, a current Cedar-Riverside resident and former business owner, said the University buildings on the West Bank have not helped students feel welcome.

“They were creating architecture that creates literal walls against the neighborhood,” he said.

Dan Prozinski, chairman of the Cedar-Riverside Business Association, said the University has been very receptive to the area over the last few years.

“The University is just trying to be a more responsible neighbor and listening to our concerns,” he said.

Markle said the University also created eateries on campus, which caused a decrease in lunch-time business for Cedar-Riverside restaurants.

Dodge said the University wasn’t wrong in creating on-campus restaurants.

“They are a business,” he said. “Why make students walk over here to get something to eat?”

Students moving back

Dodge said the University suggested students be careful in the area and focused their attention on the high-rise apartments, poverty rates and minorities who live in the neighborhood.

He said the new dance and art buildings on the West Bank campus helped bring students back.

“I think if you look at places like the Hard Times Cafe, students are finally coming back,” Dodge said.

The cafe, located near the West Bank campus, is a popular spot for students to hang out, said Miki Takata, an owner of the cafe. The cafe is a cooperative, with 10 owners.

Although students visit, Takata said, they normally do not work at the cafe because of the time and dedication it takes.

“This isn’t a normal 9-to-5 job – we do a lot of volunteer time here too,” she said.

Takata said the cooperative form of ownership is the ideal way to run a business and there are several other co-ops in the area.

“It’s not easy, but it recognizes the individual versus a hierarchal system,” she said. “You feel more valuable to the business.”

Takata said the University and downtown communities have been trying to push into the area to develop retail businesses and restaurants.

“This community is really solid and it’s held solid for quite awhile,” she said. “If the area changes, I hope it changes as a community.”

Prozinski said he sees a student presence in the neighborhood but the businesses “need to better cater to the student population.”

Pat Starr, owner of The Wienery on Cedar Avenue South, said the community is very strong. He spent Tuesday afternoon cooking meals for regular customers.

“We all know each other,” he said. “A lot of people have stuck around since the 60s.”

Starr has owned the small restaurant since 1999 and said that his business increases when students are back on campus.

“I don’t do much advertising, so a lot of people come here with friends or hear about us from word of mouth,” he said.

Starr said the Cedar-Riverside area is threatened by people wanting to develop and commercialize the neighborhood.

“Developers are drooling over this area,” he said. “When some of these businesses decide to sell, they are going to take the heart of this neighborhood.”

A place to call home

Despite frequent concerns about the safety of the area, many students are making the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood their home, said Marie Kay, the caretaker of an apartment building along Cedar Avenue.

Kay said many students now live in the apartments she monitors. Twenty of the 29 people living there are University students, she said.

“The apartments used to be seedy,” she said. “We had a lot of characters coming in and out, and now we’ve cleaned it up a bit.”

Kay said they now have a more official application for the apartments and screen their tenants.

She said many students who live on the West Bank campus still don’t interact with the neighborhood as much as they could.

“It’s pretty easy to live there and not go out the front door very much,” she said. The backdoor of the apartments leads directly to the University, she said.

Kay said the neighborhood is safe and convenient for students.

“It’s a neat neighborhood where you don’t need to own a car,” she said. “It is true city living, because you can walk everywhere and the area has a lot to offer.”

One of the best parts of the neighborhood is the diversity, Takata said.

“It’s a really free-thinking area,” Dodge said. “People don’t come home and close their blinds and pull their heads in at night because there are people around who don’t look like them.”

Prozinski said the people in the neighborhood are very open to new residents.

“The area has always been nurturing for the creative residents, the radicals, the risk-takers and the new citizens,” he said.

Takata said the diversity is a positive aspect of the community, but it also can cause problems.

“The diversity can lead to conflict, but it’s definitely worth it,” she said.