Instagram of the Totino's building

In Defense of the Totino’s Apartments

Instagram of the Totino's building

Is this picture worth 10,000 sq. ft. of retail?

I recently came across this blog post by Andrew Yarish lamenting that the old Totino’s building is being “razed to make way for trendy apartments.” He doesn’t explicitly criticize the development, but his tone betrays his disapproval. I understand the sentiment — this building is cute. But cute buildings don’t make cities great; instead it’s the diverse, kind, and smart people who live and work in buildings that make cities great.

This building happens to be vacant. (I tried to figure out how long it’s been vacant, to no avail. Decades?) There is no one living or working at the old Totino’s building. If they add 10,000 square feet of retail and 130 apartment units in that area, there could be a lot of people living and working in this space. So you take a useless building and repurpose it. Minneapolis’s tax base is broadened. Denser living means more people can walk and bike to work. Businesses in the area get more foot traffic. Everybody wins, right? Let’s take a look at the arguments against the development.

But gentrification. If gentrification means the displacement of (marginalized and down-on-their-luck) low-income renters, then yeah, I worry about it. But this is not taking away low-income housing. The development will take high-income people off the housing market, thereby keeping the prices of other rental units in this desirable neighborhood lower than they would be if the development didn’t happen. So it’s good for low-income renters in the area. If gentrification just means richer people moving into a neighborhood, I don’t worry about it.

It’s ruining the character of the neighborhood. Again, depends on what “character” is. It’s not wise to make zoning decisions (which have huge economic ramifications for tons of people for a really long time) based on fuzzy terms. I think Northeast is characterized by recent immigrants, migrants from north Minneapolis, and a bunch of educated cosmopolitan folks who like craft beer, bike art, and mid-century modern furniture, so I think this development is in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. If you think the character of Northeast that’s worth defending is in its working-class Eastern-European roots, I have three points. A) That’s factually incorrect today, B) it has disturbing racial ramifications, and C) the destructive force that’s really to blame is the structural shift in the global economy, namely the outsourcing of industrial and manufacturing jobs, which you have to concede would’ve happened with or without the construction of luxury apartments.

The Totino’s building was soooo cute! If you think you can move into a neighborhood after a couple semesters at the U — or as a transplant from Portland — and decide that your Instagram followers get so much joy from your precious #ruinporn that their interests outweigh those of the people who want to sell their vacant properties to make way for apartments and shops, you should consider checking yourself, because that might come off as a little entitled.

If there are arguments against the development that I didn’t mention here, I’d love to hear them.

P.S.: Yeah, it’s dumb that the marketers for the development misspelled “eclectic.” But certainly we can separate the evaluation of the marketers’ orthographical skills from the development’s actual pros and cons.

Scott Shaffer

About Scott Shaffer

Scott Shaffer works for a nonprofit community development corporation in Minneapolis. He has a master's degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Minnesota. He and his wife live in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood with their daughter and two Siamese cats.

7 thoughts on “In Defense of the Totino’s Apartments

  1. David LevinsonDavid Levinson

    According to's closed in 2007. We ate there only once in the early 2000s and were unimpressed with the Pizza and Pasta quality. It had seen better days. I don’t know if the formula had changed since its early success, or people’s tastes. At least the founder gave some money to education.

    On the point of gentrification, clearly sitting vacant for 6 years is clearly a sign the market has no alternate use for the current structure, signalling the need for something new. If the building were more than people’s memories, and had some historic landmark status, I could see preserving. If the memories were really important, people could have started a (Frozen) Pizza Museum there. That did not happen. And who is to say those memories are more important than the Arby’s at Washington and Huron, or any other vacant restaurant cleared for development.

    This is a bit different from the Dinkytown case, where occupied buildings are being replaced. There too, the market says there is more value in the parcel than the current structures, but not that there is zero value in the current structures.

    The worse case is tearing down an occupied or occupy-able building and NOT replacing it, leaving it a fenced lot for six years when it could have been useful.

  2. Julie Kosbab

    Also, about gentrification and character… seriously, look at what’s nearby. We aren’t talking about stuff that isn’t already oriented to a certain level of income. There’s a Lund’s. There’s Surdyk’s. Red Stag is nearby. Brasa. Several nice salons.

    A slightly seedy White Castle-Holiday gas station does not make for character. The character of the blocks surrounding this site are already gentrified.

  3. Tony HuntTony Hunt

    I live in Northeast and ate there once. It was some of the worst food I’ve ever had. This building, it’s large parking lot (which has laid unused for years now) and the adjacent white monstrosity, are an eyesore. I’m very happy to see this happening.

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