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U set to speak up about development

Administrators plan to be more vocal about changes in surrounding neighborhoods.

As neighborhoods surrounding campus continue to change rapidly, University of Minnesota administrators are making plans to become more vocal about their opinions on area development.

Top University officials say it’s time the institution has a bigger influence on developments in campus-area neighborhoods, so they’re now rolling out a plan to ensure the University has a voice through collaboration with local policymakers.

On Friday, University leaders presented their strategy to the Board of Regents, which will vote on the plan next month.

“We need to constantly be on top of our game,” said Vice President for University Services Pam Wheelock. “Development is occurring and private investment is occurring at a rate that we have not seen previously.”

As part of that effort, she said, the University could reach out to alumni to help influence public policy. The University could also get more involved with governmental groups it traditionally hasn’t, like the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The University will also consider sending representatives to City Council meetings to express the institution’s opinions on crucial changes in neighborhoods around campus, said Jason Rohloff, special assistant to the president for government and community relations.

While the administration’s report to the regents acknowledged that Minneapolis government has final jurisdiction over things like development planning and regulation, Wheelock said the University will still express its opinions on issues it deems important.

Minneapolis government and the University are already working together more than in the past, said Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey, who represents parts of Marcy-Holmes and Dinkytown.

Since Frey took office in January, he said, he’s worked with University officials to address April’s Dinkytown riots and prepare for the debut of the Green Line, which connects the University to downtown Minneapolis by rail.

“It really does help to have [administrators’] input,” Frey said.

A majority of Minneapolis City Council members are new this year, so the University is working to solidify its voice over time, said University Community Relations Director Jan Morlock.

Administrators pointed to both last fall’s spike in crime and a quickly changing housing landscape in the University area as primary reasons for the new approach.

In the past, the University was largely a commuter school, Wheelock said, and students often lived in suburbs if they didn’t have on-campus housing. Now, as apartment complexes continue sprouting in Dinkytown and Stadium Village, she said many students live either on campus or just a few blocks away.

“This has redefined our sense of campus, and it has redefined [students’] sense of the campus as well,” Wheelock told the board on Friday.

Neighborhoods near the University are now dominated by people connected to the institution, Wheelock said, so it’s important to promote safety and livability in those areas.

During the fall’s rise in crime, the University coordinated with the Minneapolis Police Department, asking it to increase patrols in the Dinkytown area.

The University plans to track the outcome of its new approach through data like crime statistics, Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter told the board.

Besides safety, University officials plan to promote a diversity of residents and housing options in nearby areas.

If a neighborhood is mostly filled with rental housing and students who leave after just a year, Rohloff said, that area might suffer, since students often don’t invest time and energy into improving a district. But a family who plans to live in the neighborhood for the long term would likely take care of it, he said.

“We think having long-term home owners is important for neighborhood stability,” Wheelock said.

The University also wants a variety of housing options so students can live near campus after they graduate and continue to be a part of the community, Wheelock said.

Providing affordable housing for recent graduates is also a goal for Frey. He said working on those types of issues is easier when the University shares its opinions.

Regent Peggy Lucas, who’s a Minneapolis resident and is involved in small, local development projects, said she’s excited about the University’s plans. Several other regents also expressed support for the initiative.

“I’m really happy to see the University making this a priority,” Lucas said.

It will be important to make sure the many new apartment complexes remain up to code, she said, since they’ll all grow old at the same time — and partnership with the city could help ensure that happens.

Playing an active role in neighborhood development will also affect how competitive the University is nationally, President Eric Kaler said.

“The environment that we’re in, and around the Minneapolis campus in particular, is going to be important as we grow the prestige of the institution,” he said.

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