City backs

Jake Kapsner

A private construction project to house over 500 University staff and students begins today at 2515 University Ave. S.E.
Developers will break ground on “University Village” despite opposition from a vocal neighborhood group who is concerned about the building’s aesthetics and increased traffic.
Minneapolis City Council Member Joan Campbell signed encroachment forms Thursday that gave the Dunbar Development Corp. final approval to begin construction of a 199-unit apartment complex with 24,000 square feet of commercial retail space for 17 stores.
Until now, the city consistently denied various development proposals for the site, which has been vacant since Memorial Stadium was demolished in 1982.
“I think this is the best development we’ve had come forward,” Campbell said.
Today’s construction reignites a plan that was slated to begin last fall, but lapsed for lack of concrete financing.
The nonprofit Wedum Foundation, who will own the complex, landed financial backing Thursday from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The $23 million insurance mortgage will not translate into subsidized housing, but instead provides a safety net for the privately funded project, said David Nietz, Chief of Multi Family Production in HUD’s Minneapolis branch.
If the loan defaults, then taxpayers pick up the tab, said Florence Littman, zoning chair of Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Organization, the group opposing construction.
This is one of a number of gripes the group has about the project. Another is parking.
Two local business associations supported early design proposals, but expressed the need for adequate parking in a Sept. 9, 1997, letter to Frank Dunbar, owner of Dunbar Developing Corp.
The development now officially meets the City Transportation Department’s obligations, Campbell said. In addition to 280 residential parking spaces, Dunbar agreed to provide 100 more stalls at an off-site location. Residents could bus to and from the off-site lot.
Because the project has a close University proximity and intends to house staff and students, designers said they plan on heavy foot and bicycle traffic. Both the west and east wings of the complex will have indoor bike storage.
The project has been “racked with politics,” said Michael Nelson, an intern with a local architect firm and University graduate. Nelson helped redesign University Village during the past year.
He explained how the structure deviates from “classic urban” architecture, where a high density of buildings with diverse designs were stacked into a square block, like in Stadium Village.
Littman claims the University Village design is a suburban rather than urban model because it puts commercial parking lots in front of the building.
“In addition, it’s like a student-warehouse, it’s a barracks,” Littman said.
The complex will also have 17 retail stores on the first floor facing University Avenue.
In the process of designing and revising University Village, Nelson said they pulled the retail stores closer to University Avenue and reduced the number of parking spaces.
The complex could have been closer to the street, but officials wanted visible parking for retail stores.
As for the overall structure, Nelson said, “It’s big. There’s no denying a lot of people will be living there.”
The improvement association sees potentially 900 people living on the site, or 768 according to their study, a figure which exceeds the developer’s. They say students will double up in rooms because of high rent.
A Dec. 5, 1997, Income Estimate submitted to City Planning estimated single-bedrooms at $740, doubles at $965 and quads at $1440. However, officials have not released rent pricing for the complex as of yet.
But Great Lakes Management Co. Director Michael Pagh, whose company will manage the complex, said only one person will live in each of the 506 bedrooms. He said lease rates won’t be available for another month.
Despite the criticism, some are excited for the new complex, which will help ease the student housing crunch and provide more shopping selection.
University Housing and Residential Life officials said they support any kind of development that assists in decreasing the housing need at the University.