Commission backs allowing changes to some historic buildings

Eric Swanson

The crowning achievement of Campus Journey Ministries’ newly renovated, early 20th century house near University Avenue Southeast will hopefully be a coffee shop on the first floor that will be open to the public, said Greg Silker, the organization’s director.

“In a coffee shop, people come from all different backgrounds. It’s in our heart to create a place for people to come and talk about life, love, war and peace,” said Matthew Wingard, one of the Christian group’s house parents.

However, the coffee shop might end up a pipe dream if the proposed historical preservation of the greek off campus is not approved by the Zoning and Planning Commission said Amy Lucas, senior planer of the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission.

“Without a variance allowed for certain historic houses and buildings, the coffee shop is probably not possible,” Lucas said.

The Heritage Preservation Commission works with the community to preserve what it considers historically significant buildings.

“We are here to promote the rehabilitation and adaptation of properties in need of uses they were not designed for. We promote adaptive reuse to designated properties,” said Blake Graham, manager of

Minneapolis zoning and development controls.

Because the historic houses cannot be demolished or changed significantly from their present state without justification, the Heritage Preservation Commission will allow special variances to zoning codes, such as a coffee shop, to continue their viability in the community.

Most who attended the Heritage Preservation Commission’s meeting Sept. 16 said they were upset with its decision to recommend historic designation of the houses to the Minneapolis City Council’s Zoning and Planning Commission. Campus Journey Ministries, on the other hand, was happy with the decision.

Because these houses will be considered for historic designation, any structural changes must meet historic building standards. This means renovators must receive Heritage Preservation Committee approval for any changes to the buildings. Working with the commission is not as difficult as many greeks think, Campus Journey Ministries leaders said.

“The Heritage Preservation Commission designation has not significantly increased costs. In the cases of the handicap access ramp and the new windows, the Heritage Preservation Commission’s decisions were better choices,” Silker said. “I think the designation is good. For our two bits, Heritage Preservation Commission has been a good thing.”

Campus Journey Ministries’ newly renovated house is part of the proposed historic district incorporating 33 houses. The houses under consideration for preservation have met certain guidelines – most importantly, fraternity and sorority involvement in houses’ building and remodeling during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

The Heritage Preservation Commission targets houses around the University area, including fraternities, sororities, houses in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood and one in the Prospect Park neighborhood for historic preservation.

Most of the houses belong to greeks.

Consideration of whether to preserve these houses started more than one year ago, when the Delta Tau Delta house filed for a demolition permit through the city of Minneapolis. By routine, the city looked at the proposed house and the houses around it for historic content and significance.

Regardless of the possible benefits of the proposed historic district, many of the fraternities, sororities and land owners of the houses have expressed displeasure, saying most of the added costs and time associated with making renovations to their houses is a hassle.

“Renovations need to occur as student needs and expectations change,” said John Kokkinen, president of the Interfraternity Council. “The extra time, effort and money spent attempting to make changes to a house are inevitably going to be deferred to the students living there.”