If you can’t beat ’em, divert ’em

Don’t charge graduate and professional students; turn Coffman Union into condos.

by Bobak Ha’eri

Like it or not, the new Gophers football stadium is a certainty. With TCF Bank as the naming sponsor (replacing that eccentric alumnus) it’s a matter of when. Has this changed the opinions of most of the 16,000 graduate and professional students who do not want to pay for it? Hell no.

Don’t get us wrong: It’s not that we dislike college football – many of us are fans, some even rabid. But we’ve already built loyalties to undergraduate institutions. Some of us are Buckeyes, Longhorns, Hokies, or (in my case) Trojans. Many others went to liberal arts colleges and don’t really give a damn.

But instead of kvetching about why we don’t want to pay for your stadium, I’ve decided to propose an alternative source of funding – something I hope will surpass any graduate and professional student contribution.

We should convert Coffman Union into condominiums – high-end condominiums.

Condo conversions of old warehouses and office buildings are making a major splash across the country. Even the venerable Plaza Hotel in New York is being converted into condos. The drive is coming from empty-nest baby boomers and young professionals who all want the cosmopolitan city lifestyle. The major selling points are views, high ceilings, cool exterior architecture and access to transit, parks and entertainment.

Coffman Union has all of those things in spades. Just look at the upper floors: breathtaking views of the Minneapolis skyline, the river or Northrop Mall. The ceilings are often quite high. The original 1930s architecture and the modern additions make every side of Coffman Union attractive for housing. The building is on major bus lines and considered a shoo-in for a stop on the next leg of the light rail. It’s right off our sometimes parklike campus and the Mississippi River. It’s a veritable gold mine just waiting to be tapped.

Now is the time to act: Condo prices are skyrocketing. In downtown, you’re lucky to find a tiny two-bedroom that isn’t well more than $250,000. Trust me, I’ve looked.

With Coffman Union’s history and amenities, I could see its condos easily starting from $330,000 for a second-floor, partial-Northrop view to a $2 million pad located in the present spot of some of the Campus Club rooms. With ample existing parking, the school can charge $50,000-100,000 per assigned resident parking space without spending a dime.

We won’t even have to convert the entire building. The basement, ground and some of the first floor are pretty useless for condos. Instead, their present occupants offer amenities those living above might appreciate.

Most students wouldn’t miss any of their favorite parts of Coffman Union. Students keep the bookstore, Starbucks, the food court, etc., while the space being wasted by the Minnesota Student Association offices, student organizations and the hoity-toity Campus Club will actually benefit the University.

The administration gets its pound of flesh while graduate and professional students won’t have to pay the fee. It’s a win-win scenario! I would like to see the campus planning department work up some preliminary sketches so we can put it in front of the Board of Regents’ Facilities Committee next fall.

Don’t think it ends with this quasihumor column. We’d rather spend our sports donation dollars on the school of our own choosing. We want a choice. If they force us to pay, I will take any future University donation solicitations and burn them like a hockey riot.

Bobak Ha’Eri welcomes comments at [email protected].