Donjek is Moving!

Same street, new location. As of May 1, the Donjek offices will move 1/4 mile down the street, from the current location to 2288 University Avenue West, Suite 204. As I wrap up four years at this location, at a time when the street is evolving like the world around it, I move from a building built in 1915 to one built in 1914. Here’s what the structure I’m leaving looked like 90 years ago and today. Stay tuned for photos of the new space!



Now Posted: Part-Time Summer Internship

Donjek is a one-person consulting firm serving the needs of private, public and philanthropic/nonprofit clients in areas related to urban redevelopment. I am seeking a part-time summer intern to assist me with current and future projects, in the following areas of focus and skills:


Prospective internship projects will include work on Donjek engagements, as well as initiatives related to the nonprofit Strong Towns and the Metropolitan Council. A sample of past Donjek projects is available here, and content relating to past projects is available through the Donjek Projects category of this blog.

Interested applicants may learn more online at the Donjek website (, at the company’s Cents of Place blog ( and on Twitter (@commers). Please submit a one-page cover letter, resume and short writing sample by Friday, April 29 to Jon Commers, Donjek, Inc., 2500 University Avenue West, Suite E2, St. Paul, MN, 55108. Or, email:    

Learning Land Use Lessons at the Minnesota State Fair

The Fair works.

This year, 1.8 million visitors attended the Minnesota State Fair, breaking the previous record for annual attendance. Our enthusiasm for the Fair is both cause and result of a single fact: For two weeks every year, it’s an incredibly successful place. 

I know the Fair is a seasonal event, a carnival, and that not everything that makes the Fair successful can be applied to Main Street. At the same time, the Fair achieves what those of us involved in redevelopment seek to do with places: Make them economically and socially viable for the long term, and make them work for the people who live, work and visit there. 

3877060792_c2bcbfe0a7_m After 150 years in operation and 125 years at its current location, the Fair is more than viable – it’s vital. What’s to learn?

New and old each have value. The Fair as an institution dates to 1859, and it’s occupied its current site since 1885. Over the last 125 years, we’ve built open spaces, barns, the Grandstand and other permanent structures. Vendor stalls and exhibits have come and gone, changed or remained as timepieces. Others are new this year. In between are incidental spaces to put up feet away from the crowd. We connect to redeveloped spaces with a relationship to their past; they convey authenticity.

Mix it up. Who can imagine the Grandstand without its hosting evening shows while serving as a forum for small merchants below? Placing the Eco-Experience Center adjacent to the petroleum-oriented Machinery Hill challenges us to see the Fair as truly a big-tent event. The land use blends food preparation with political exchange, exhibits for children with crop art, places of religion with bandshells. It also provides an experience for patrons who arrive with a roll of bills, and those who visit on a tighter budget. But the core element of success is its vital (even chaotic) mix, a combination that many of today’s zoning ordinances would discourage on Main Street or in commercial districts.

Reinvest. The Fair’s private and public roles are mixed, too. In my limited experience working food stands at the Fair, the pace – of people and dollars changing hands – can reach a fever pitch. That’s possible because the infrastructure at and around the Fair can sustain nearly two million visits in less than two weeks. State Fair revenues fund operation and maintenance of the streets and the Grandstand, and private investment provides for much of the vending infrastructure. It's all closely located and maximizes the existing systems, meaning that gate receipts can support reinvestment in what's there, as opposed to funding wayward and costly expansion.

As a consultant interested in making places more effective, it’s impossible for me not to take notice of the durable place that is the Minnesota State Fair.

Photo: Courtesy of Mike Keliher.

Of Borrowers and Fortresses: Hoping for Something Other Than “TARP 2.0”

Where have all the lenders gone?

Local banks are here, and they’re lending. That’s the good news.

The bad news, as we’ve all been discussing, is that the larger institutions aren’t here, and they’re not lending. So where have they gone? In a burst of sarcasm, one colleague suggested they’ve been camped out in Washington, D.C., and have canceled meetings of the credit committee until further notice.

Markets and commentators have been busy today examining the latest proposal to stabilize the lending sector. Observations from the Wall Street Journal and the Accrued Interest blog provide initial feedback about the plan. Reviewing this plan, I am most interested in its distinction from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) passed last year, which appears to have flaws rendering it ineffective.

As I discussed on this forum last month, interest rates suggest banks may have become more disposed to reengage in lending activity. In retrospect, events in the last few weeks seem to highlight that more than interest rates and capital will be required to improve the lending environment. TARP isn’t doing the job. I have multiple clients who are nearly at a loss for how to procure construction or investment financing – and these are seasoned, entrepreneurial borrowers.

In mid-January, the New York Times ran a piercing article about why the first round of federal funds targeted to financial institutions hadn’t spurred more lending activity. The article quoted three bankers with particularly striking perspectives about the premise of the public investment in their respective banks:

“We’re not going to change our business model or our credit policies to accommodate the needs of the public sector as they see it to have us make more loans.” – John Hope III, Chairman, Whitney National Bank

“With that capital in hand, not only do we feel comfortable that we can ride out the recession, but we feel that we’ll be in a position to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves once this recession is sorted out.” – Walter Pressey, President, Boston Private Wealth Management

“Adding $400 million in capital gives us a chance to really have a totally fortressed balance sheet in case things get a lot worse than we think. And if they don’t, we may end up just paying it back a little bit earlier.” – Christopher Carey, CFO, City National Bank

As evidenced by reports of tense discussions inside the administration, there is a range of opinion about what and how strings ought to be attached to the public purchase of warrants in U.S. banks. But the costs of “fortressing” particular balance sheets are widespread – just ask any borrower stymied by current conditions. Unless the mission of the federal assistance to the banking sector is to pick and support “winners” in that industry, any future public positions in the industry must hinge on institutions actually lending with the capital.

Dual, Positive Changes at Donjek

It’s been a brief pause here at the Cents of Place, thanks
primarily to two significant and positive changes at Donjek.

First, Dan Walsh joined the office last week as vice
president, and is (as I type) getting his handsOffice_view dirty in travel demand
management analysis, parking solutions including shared parking
facilities, and redevelopment of a four-acre Minneapolis site. Needless to say, Dan is getting acclimated!

Second, Donjek has moved from our previous location to the
Midway Commercial Building
at 2500 University Avenue West in St. Paul, Minnesota,
where we have more elbow room and ease of access to the two downtowns and the
University. Adjacent is a photo of the
space; Dan is pictured here deep in analysis.

Our new street address is:

2500 University Avenue West, Suite E2
St. Paul, MN 55114
Phone (651) 645-4644

We look forward to hosting you soon!