Dinkytown apt. complex plans in motion

The Opus project will begin construction this summer.

by Marion Renault

Plans for a new apartment complex in the heart of Dinkytown are moving forward, but some in the area still have concerns.

The Opus Group will likely break ground in July of this year. The project will replace Dinkytown’s House of Hanson, Book House,  The Podium, Casablanca Hair Design and Duffy’s Pizza.

The six-story, 140-unit building is set to open August 2014. Opus will submit a formal application to the city in a week and a half for the $30 million project, according to Matt Rauenhorst, senior director of real estate development at Opus.

Community members discussed the yet-unnamed development at a Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association meeting Tuesday.

They spoke fervently about issues related to parking, zoning, the loss of Dinkytown’s character and the logistics of simultaneous construction across the street at the former site of the University Technology Enterprise Center lot.

“I’m not arguing about … architecture, I’m not arguing about history, I’m arguing about preserving that which is here now,” said James Sander, whose wife owns Kafe 421.

Laurel Bauer, owner of House of Hanson, said it is too late for community members to be protesting the project. Dinkytown needs to be more open to progress, she said.

“Do we have the right to tell the city to leave this donut hole alone?” she said. “Part of me says Dinkytown will get left in the dust.”

The building will include retail space, and although Rauenhorst said Opus hasn’t searched for tenants, it will seek out businesses “consistent with the fabric of Dinkytown.”

Bauer said she felt the mixed-use format makes the best use of her land — both by bringing in customers and responding to high property values in the area.

“It’s getting exceedingly more difficult for entrepreneurs to come in and function in Dinkytown because it is expensive,” she said.

Rauenhorst said the project would bring 225 construction jobs to Dinkytown, eventually increasing retail space and adding 68 permanent public parking spaces.

After consulting with the city, the MHNA and the Dinkytown Business Association, Rauenhorst said Opus decreased the number of units and doubled the amount of public parking in the building’s design.

They also adjusted their plans to better integrate the building with surrounding architecture.

“We feel like it’s been a really good process working with all the stakeholders in this project,” he said.

The MHNA is “delighted” that Opus is being so responsive, said Arvonne Fraser, co-chair of the group’s land-use committee.

Bauer also praised Opus’ commitment to addressing the community’s needs despite lingering tension.

“The truth of the matter is it’s frustrating,” she said. “[Opus is] being very lenient, in my opinion, in addressing everybody’s wishes to the best of their abilities.”

The project is pending city approval and will require new zoning to move forward.

Book House owner Kristen Eide-Tollefson said she worries the rezoning would invite other companies to redevelop Dinkytown.

Eide-Tollefson said those fears were confirmed as a possibility in a meeting last week with Ward 9 Councilman Gary Schiff.

“[It] would set … a new tone for Dinkytown,” she said. “The concern about a domino effect here is real.”

The Opus development and the upcoming UTEC apartment project across the street will be under construction at the same time. Local business owners have said this would strain the already tense parking situation in Dinkytown.

Civil engineering junior Joe Totten spoke at the meeting Tuesday in support of the project but said he doesn’t understand the incentive to rush it.

“Either relax or slow down a little bit,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “Developing it a year later doesn’t sound like the end of the world to most people.”

Eide-Tollefson said she has talked to Opus about potentially moving into the building’s retail space, depending on rent rates.

Fraser said she is wary of the concentration of students in Dinkytown.

“We are concerned that it’s all student housing,” she said. “We want a more diverse neighborhood.”

Although tensions are running high, Bauer said the project needs to happen for Dinkytown to move forward.

“Everybody is still riled up,” she said. “People don’t like change. They want Dinkytown to stay exactly as it looks. Parts of Dinkytown are old and need revamping.”