Officials, residents discuss plans for St. Paul campus

An open dialogue is crucial because many of the area’s residents are not “U” affiliated.

by Liz Riggs

The University owns nearly half the land in the city of Falcon Heights, and decisions about the St. Paul campus don’t go unnoticed by the city’s 5,500 residents – many of whom are not affiliated with the University.

Thursday night about 50 Falcon Heights residents met with University representatives at Falcon Heights City Hall to discuss the future of the St. Paul campus community.

Falcon Heights and the University are simultaneously updating their plans, which city administrator Justin Miller called “opportunistic.”

Falcon Heights is required to update the city plans every 10 years, per an agreement with the Metropolitan Council.

Kate VandenBosch, a University professor of plant biology, said changes are necessary to attract students to the area.

“Students are expecting to have more amenities that support their daily life,” said VandenBosch, a member of a University committee addressing the upcoming needs of the St. Paul campus. “In St. Paul, we think that’s one of the keys for more campus vitality,” she said.

Major changes to the campus should also be consistent with the needs of Falcon Heights residents, she said.

Falcon Heights Mayor Sue Gehrz agreed that there aren’t as many amenities near the St. Paul campus as there are in Minneapolis, such as restaurants and other in-demand businesses.

But she said there are downfalls of these things to keep in mind.

“Restaurants would be nice but anything that would cause a lot of noise, safety problems,” Gehrz said, “we would rather not see in the community.”

Mahmoud Shahim, owner of Lori’s Coffee House and Mim’s Café near the St. Paul campus said the very nature of the area requires a different approach to business.

Although he estimated 80 percent of his customers are University students, Shahim said less evening activity and a lack of parking dictates that businesses can’t operate in the same way they do on the East Bank.

“I would worry if St. Paul had too many places,” he said.

Gehrz said the campus’ “laidback, quiet” feel is appreciated by Falcon Heights residents.

“We don’t experience many of the problems that neighborhoods near the other campuses experience,” Gehrz said.

The University is also exploring academically related changes, in addition to new development prospects.

VandenBosch said the project stems from a University-wide plan to enhance the campus’ vitality.

She said it’s important to make improvements and promote environmental initiatives while still maintaining the open spaces and natural scenery for which the St. Paul campus is known. Falcon Heights residents were especially concerned about maintaining current open spaces, including the University’s golf course and numerous agricultural fields.

The Equine Center and plans for the relocated Bell Museum were both discussed with area residents in their early stages, Gehrz said.

“I would hope that we will see a continuation of the really good communication and cooperative planning that we have seen over the last several years,” Gehrz said.