Alliance between University, city and neighborhoods at crossroads

The University District Alliance is looking to stay relevant to the city and campus community.

Tiffany Bui

An 11-year-old partnership between the University of Minnesota, the City of Minneapolis and neighborhood organizations is figuring out how to remain relevant.

The University District Alliance, comprised of representatives from the three entities, agreed to pause board activities last December to re-evaluate the organization’s structure. During the 10-month board hiatus, the executive committee continued to meet and map out the UDA’s future. 

While many members said they still consider the UDA an important partnership, internal challenges have made some question its effectiveness. 

Some members said they noted declining attendance and energy at board meetings. 

Ted Tucker, a member of the executive committee, said the “tipping point” for the UDA’s reconfiguration was the passing of chairperson Doug Carlson at the same time there was a change in University relations. 

“The circumstances all coincided to change how the organization was operating and meeting,” said Tucker. 

Erick Garcia Luna, who serves as the UDA’s direct point of contact to the University, took over as director of community and local government relations in September 2017. UDA activity was slowed during the transition between directors, said Tucker.

Since stepping into this role, Garcia Luna said the organization has the potential to tackle more substantive issues. 

“What I found was a table of discussion where there seemed to be no clear agenda. There were only a couple of people that had the most presence at the table,” said Garcia Luna. “I don’t think the UDA has been able to transform with the times.”

To address these internal shortcomings, Garcia Luna said the alliance has hired an outside consultant to facilitate discussions about reshaping the UDA. The final report recommends the UDA meet less often and create groups to address specific issues as they arise.

The pause on board activities has run too long, said Bill Dane, co-chair of the alliance’s livability committee. A new board was supposed to be elected in January, he said. 

“Some neighborhood concerns were coming to the livability committee, but there was no place to take them,” said Dane. 

Typically, committees take concerns to the board, but the pause on board activities meant there wasn’t a central place to discuss them.  

“Basically the executive committee continues to function, but the board that they’re responsible to isn’t meeting at all,” said Dane. 

Garcia Luna said in an email the executive committee had the power to recommend a meeting of the UDA board at any time during the pause.

The still-active executive committee was able to accomplish some agenda items during this evaluation period, including submitting comments on the City’s proposed 2040 plan.  

“My sense is that we still moved things ahead. Nobody forwarded to the executive committee any actions we weren’t able to do,” said Vice President of University Services Mike Berthelsen, who serves as interim chair of UDA. 

Dane said he will continue to keep an eye on the UDA’s actions in the future. 

“If you hear that the [UDA] is studying issues and taking stand, and trying its best to work through some of the issues that are affecting these neighborhoods, the U and the City, then you’ll say ‘Yeah, that’s a valuable thing,’” said Dane. 

The UDA board will reconvene on Oct. 30 for the first time since December.