Small business Dinkytown gem closes

The UTEC building is closing to make way for an apartment complex, displacing 85 businesses.

Princeton Review operations manager Law Schuelke packs a last few items from their old location into his car on Friday outside of the UTEC building in Dinkytown.

Emily Dunker

Princeton Review operations manager Law Schuelke packs a last few items from their old location into his car on Friday outside of the UTEC building in Dinkytown.

by Tony

The remaining tenants of the University Technology Enterprise Center packed up their things and closed their doors for the last time Friday.

UTEC will shut down in the coming weeks and be demolished to make way for a 317-unit student housing development. The Minneapolis Planning Commission approved final plans for the yet-unnamed development Monday night.

The owner and former tenants of UTEC say the 90-year-old building served as a vital “incubator” for small businesses, particularly those run by University of Minnesota students and alumni.

“It’s not so much the building; it’s how it was used that was really the focus,” owner David Jasper said.

At its peak, the center housed as many as 140 tenants, including a chiropractor, electronics repair shops, student
groups and a charter school.

UTEC’s goal was to nurture small businesses with flexible leases and services to help new entrepreneurs.

“They had great facilities for helping a small business look bigger,” said Dinkytown Business Association President Skott Johnson. “Your phone was answered; your mail was accepted when you weren’t there. I think it was great for entrepreneurs.”

He said he was sad to see the center — and its remaining 85 businesses — go. Johnson said he is worried that without incubators like UTEC, commercial space in Minneapolis will become out of reach for small businesses.

Casey Profita began renting space at UTEC as a University sophomore after his business, Gophermods, got too big for his dorm room.

“It’s a great place to start a business if you have no idea where to start,” he said.

UTEC’s sale came as Gophermods was looking to expand, but Profita said it was still bittersweet to move out.

He said another dorm-room business, freshman Austin White-Pentony‘s Get Smarter Solutions, looked into renting space from UTEC this fall, only to find the building was no longer accepting new leases.

Instead, Profita contacted White-Pentony about sharing Gophermods’ new storefront in northeast Minneapolis. Now, Get Smarter rents the space upstairs.

“It’s very exciting,” Profita said. “It’s nice to see some other young entrepreneurial minds … in this area.”

After the UTEC sale is completed, Jasper plans to retire. The 75-year-old said it’ll be tough to leave, but he’s looking forward to spending more time painting and building model trains.

UTEC was remodeled to its current form in the 1980s, when former tenant Marshall University High School closed.

The developer that bought the site, GEM Realty Capital, plans to recycle parts of the building’s gym floor, light fixtures and cabinetry to incorporate into the new building. Jasper said this homage made it easier to let the building go.

“It was a fun project, and of course I hate to see it all end up in the dumpster,” he said. “The concept itself was something that I think is critical to the business structure of the Twin Cities.”