To build Dinkytown, start in the trenches

The underused rail trench could be the least controversial area to grow Dinkytown, despite the cost.

Chris Iverson

Change is happening in Dinkytown, whether we like it or not. Some opposed to new construction projects argue developers are building without blinking, whereby destroying the character of the famed commercial sector.  So, is there a better location for development to meet this large near-campus housing demand?

The Dinkytown Trench, an otherwise forgotten stretch of land cutting through the heart of the neighborhood, is a perfect place to start. Originally built as a railroad bypass from campus, and recently used for the Dinkytown Greenway bike trail, the ditch eats up valuable land that could otherwise be used as a base for retail and housing.

If extraneous costs were a non-factor, developers would have the opportunity to build something that caters to all interests without replacing local character. A shop like the Midtown Greenway’s Freewheel Bike Center could attach to the new Dinkytown trail. Developers could build an under-bridge parking garage complementary with street-level retail and above-ground housing. To add to the project, the railway’s gravel service road could be used for a future streetcar line, reducing travel time along University Avenue and Fourth Street Southeast.

The existing character of Dinkytown could be salvaged while growing the local population and businesses of the area.

However, BNSF Railway still owns much of the ditch.  Although a nice idea, costs and negotiating efforts with the railway company might be the ultimate non-starter for future development. The rail track is still used for coal delivery to the University of Minnesota’s power plant, which could prove an impasse in acquiring the land. After all, the City of Minneapolis attempted to acquire the railway parcels before settling with the University to build the bike trail on its property. At the same time, the City considered a plan to build a truck bypass route in the Trench, called the Granary Corridor. The Corridor might occupy all developable land and squander an opportunity for unique growth.

However, if the stars align, developers should take note and create something unique to add to, not replace, the Dinkytown story.