University shifts course on UMore development vision
Seven years after it introduced a vision of a forward-looking, green-powered university-directed community in Empire Township, the University of Minnesota is redefining and reducing its role in the process.
On Friday the university’s board of regents approved a revised vision for its UMore Park property that calls for delays to mining in some areas, a focus on the research work currently taking place on the property and, eventually, development led by outside parties rather than the university itself.
The U of M could still reserve the right to give final approval of development plans before work begins, but vice president for finance Richard Pfutzenreuter said the new report clarifies that the university will not be involved in what he calls the vertical development of the property.
“It’s in a sense signaling that we’re going to have a more marketplace and market-sensitive view,” Phutzenreuter said. “Our vision is, we’re not going to be deciding anything ourself.”
In 2008, the school presented a vision of the project that included energy-efficient housing, on-site solar and wind-power generators and a range of public art for a community expected to draw 20,000 to 30,000 new residents. All of it was to be guided by the university as a way to put into action ideas developed in the classroom.
Last October, though, U of M president Eric Kaler asked a task force that included Pfutzenreuter and six others to review that vision and several other aspects of the UMore plan.
“I have become increasingly concerned about our process and plans for UMore Park and want to assure that we are proceeding in the best interest of the University,” Kaler wrote in an Oct. 14 letter to the group.
Since 2006 the university has spent $12.4 million at Umore, $3.4 million more than the revenue it has brought in.
In addition to its recommendation to let the market drive development the report recommends the university follow through on its commitment to clean up contamination on the property, and that it maximize the property’s value as a “unique and valuable resource for advancing the University’s agricultural research portfolio and mission.”
Preserving the property’s value as a research site will mean working with Dakota Aggregate to put in place a 15-year-moratorium on gravel mining in three parts of the property and a 25-year moratorium in two additional areas to allow research to continue.
While it is taking a more hands-off approach to development on the 5,000-acre UMore property, Phutzenreuter said the university will continue to work with Rosemount, Empire Township and Dakota County to make sure development there meets local standards.
“The University need not be the real estate developer to have a positive impact on the development of UMore Park,” the report reads. “If this revised vision is adopted, the University will participate in creating development standards … to insure that the end result is one that the University and community can be proud of.”
Rosemount mayor Bill Droste was at the Board of Regents hearing Friday and said he supports the university’s change to its vision.
“The reality is, you get closer to working with a developer or hiring a developer, I think they’re looking at it a little different, realizing the University of Minnesota’s core role is not development,” Droste said this week. “I think they’re beginning to get an understanding of the complexities of local government.”
Droste said he believes the coverage the project has gotten as a result of the announcement might even help the development.
“We may get some interest just from those news stories and the U making those statements,” he said.
Whatver form it takes, actual development on the UMore site is probably still years away no matter what shape it takes. Much of the property has been targeted for gravel mining.