Hearings begin in the University’s plans to buy three East Bank properties

More hearings will take place in May.

The University is moving ahead with a plan to acquire three East Bank properties to expand sports and recreational facilities.

A hearing for the first plot of land – approximately one acre just north of Mariucci Arena – began Tuesday and ran through Friday.

University officials and property owner Lorraine Larson appeared at the hearing to determine the final purchase price for her land.

The University is using the state’s eminent domain law – which allows for land purchases even when the owner does not agree to a price – to force Larson to sell the land. The same law is used to purchase homes obstructing highway expansions.

The University’s appraiser valued the land at $365,000 to $400,000. Larson’s appraiser placed the value at $1.2 million, but Larson said she wants $2 million for the property.

A panel of three commissioners heard the arguments and plan to meet Friday to decide a final purchase price.

Larson, 80, received the land from her late husband, Edward, who bought it in 1969. She said her husband sold three other properties to the University without contention.

Susan Weinberg, University real estate director, said eminent domain is rarely used.

“We really try hard to find an acceptable purchase price and come to an agreement with the owner,” she said.

Hearings for the other two properties, owned by Union

Pacific Railroad and McLaughlin Gormley King, will take place in May, University associate general counsel Brian Slovut said.

The University needs the three properties for the development of the planned University Park.

Weinberg said the University owns two-thirds of the land needed for the plan.

University Park would be a joint project between intercollegiate athletics, recreational sports and the University at large, associate athletics director Regina Sullivan said.

The plan would include four outdoor tennis courts to complete the Baseline Tennis Center project. Sullivan said the additional courts would allow the University to host the Big Ten tournament.

University Park could also include a new varsity baseball field, Sullivan said.

Recreational sports facilities would include softball fields, basketball courts, sand volleyball courts and a skateboarding area, recreational sports director James Turman said. A pond, picnic areas and walking paths would also be part of the plan, he said.

There is no timetable for the project because of a University moratorium on building sports facilities, Turman said, but the project could be completed within one year once started.

Turman said he does not know how much the project would cost or where the money would come from.