The U and You, West Bank

The Washington Avenue bridge connects the east and west banks of the university — and Bridgeland.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

Cedar-Riverside stakeholders welcome university collaboration

Although the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood looks good on the housing front, according to the upcoming report “Moving Together: U of M Twin Cities Campus Area Neighborhood Impact,” there is room for collaboration between the University of Minnesota and its West Bank neighbors.

Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon joined neighborhood representatives on the Stadium Area Advisory Group (SAAG) to contribute to the report. Gordon called the collaboration between the university, city and neighborhood “a great opportunity for a new structure, to formalize the relationship [between the three entities.]”

Doris Wickstrom represented the West Bank Community Coalition (WBCC) on the SAAG. “The group saw the need for a more collaborative approach, which is different from the past,” she said.

Jan Morlock, director of community relations for the university’s Twin Cities campus, said the purpose of the report is “to create a new form of partnership… [It’s] a way to focus on neighborhood vitality issues and to address challenges and take advantage of opportunities. It’s to help align support when there is common interest.”

“The report addresses the need to shore up and improve the university area through neighborhood development,” said Catherine Vennewitz, who represented the Cedar-Riverside Business Association (CRBA) on the committee. “The goal is to draw people back to the University area to live and work.”

Vennewitz said the implementation of home-buyer incentives and the redevelopment of strategic sites would strengthen neighborhoods, and that increased police patrols and a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design program would directly benefit the Cedar-Riverside area. Such initiatives could be funded in phases, should the report be approved by the city and legislature.

Housing was a primary issue addressed in the report, which found Cedar-Riverside to be more stable in that regard than other Bridgeland neighborhoods like Southeast Como. There, the high rate of conversions from single-family homes to rental units has led to absentee landlords and blighted properties, according to the report.

Wickstrom said the study found Cedar-Riverside housing to be stable “because we have huge affordable housing here,” said Wickstrom. “People stay here longer.”

Morlock said the stability of Cedar-Riverside rental properties stems from the large, professionally managed apartment buildings and cooperative housing units. Southeast neighborhoods house many more college-aged residents (18–24 years old) that contribute to a higher turnover rate.

Peter Dodge has lived and owned property on the West Bank since the early 1970s. His holdings include many buildings within a stone’s throw of the West Bank campus. Dodge has observed the relationship between the campus and neighborhood for more than three decades.

“The U of M has been not much involved in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood until recently,” said Dodge. “The university regards the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood as a security risk and [has] acted accordingly.”

The 1997 construction of the Carlson School of Management and other development along Riverside Avenue have cut off sight lines from the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood to the university, Dodge said, but he applauded the more recent construction of the Arts Quarter buildings, which he said has drawn “bolder and more curious students… out to places like the Hard Times.” (The collective cafe is run out of a Dodge-owned building.)

Since the early 1980s, low-income housing has largely replaced student housing, Dodge observed. “Now we don’t have a student population. That’s changed the milieu of the West Bank,” he said, adding that he is “not against housing for low-income people.”

The West Bank Community Development Corporation (WBCDC) has been involved in much of that housing development since its formation in 1981. Of the 500 rental and cooperative housing units now owned by the WBCDC in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, one-third are currently rented by students, said Tim Mungavan, executive director of the WBCDC. “Federal subsidy programs prohibit us from having full-time students. They can be part-time students, or one of two people in a unit can be a student.

“Seven Corners is our biggest housing project,” he said. “Twenty percent of it is restricted income and student-restricted. Eighty percent of the housing units can be students.”

Of the report, Mungavan said: “It’s always a good thing for the U to think about the stake they have in the neighborhood. It’s always scary when a giant looks your direction — you’re not sure what they’ll do. It’d be foolish for us to think the U won’t look at their own interests. Will they be looking to take over existing housing, for more employees’ housing? A good thing would be housing for faculty and students. If there is displacement of current residents, that would be a bad thing. I hope the property we own remains good quality and available to low and mid-income people.”

Wickstrom said the university views the diversity of Cedar-Riverside as an asset to its goal of becoming a world-class research institution, and she would like to see funding for education programs for seniors, after-school programs, and job training and employment. Wickstrom also hopes the university will collaborate with the neighborhood on the Central Corridor LRT line. “The new LRT line should be as close to Cedar [Avenue] as possible,” said Wickstrom, adding that, since the line “has to be below ground,” she would prefer the line at Fourth Street, near Theatre in the Round. “That will be an issue,” she said, “and that’s cooperation that we can hope for.”

Gordon looked forward to what might come from such a collaboration. “I think there’s potential for investment in housing and support of businesses, and maybe some support for home improvements,” he said. “If there’s impact, there may be new zoning and redistricting. It may fit with goals of small area plan and neighborhood revitalization. There’s a chance of synergy.”

last revised: April 9, 2007