Regents hear capital request, UMore Park plans

U to request $194.7 million from the Legislature next session, but not for the Bell Museum.

by Taryn Wobbema

University of Minnesota administrators presented at FridayâÄôs Board of Regents meeting their plan to request $194.7 million from the state Legislature next session as part of a $242 million capital investment plan. The University wants $100 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement âÄî an amount intended for system-wide renovations of University buildings. Other projects include: âÄ¢ Folwell Hall renovations: $36.5 million âÄ¢ New American Indian Learning Resource Center on Duluth campus: $10 million âÄ¢ New physics and nanotechnology building on Twin Cities East Bank campus: $80 million âÄ¢ General laboratory renovations: $10 million âÄ¢ The Itasca Biological Station : $5.5 million If the request passes the Board of Regents and the Legislature, the state will pay all of the HEAPR amount, but only two-thirds of the other projects. The University would pay the remaining third, putting the actual size of the capital request at $242 million. Missing from the request was funding for a new Bell Museum of Natural History, which has been a major University priority at the Capitol the past two years. While assuring the board he wonâÄôt abandon the Bell project, University President Bob Bruininks said the request leaves out the Bell because other projects need to move forward. The Legislature has voted to fund the project each of the past two sessions, but each time, funding was eventually vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty . Bell Museum director Susan Weller said she understands the UniversityâÄôs decision to leave the Bell out of the request. âÄúWithout anything changing economically or politically, it is not a good use of University funds,âÄù she said. The University requested the same amount in HEAPR funds in its 2008 capital request, but it received only $35 million from the Legislature. University spokesman Dan Wolter said the University purposely requests a large amount in HEAPR funds hoping whatever the state gives will be enough for the UniversityâÄôs top priorities. The board will vote on the proposal at its October meeting. Regent and facilities committee chair Steven Hunter said the request is going toward the right projects. He said he is confident the board will pass the request next month. 1701 Building The Facilities Committee announced Thursday the emergency $2.5 million purchase of the 1701 University Ave. S E property. The space will likely serve as a relocation site for classes normally held in Folwell Hall should the University receive funding to renovate the building, University Vice President Kathleen OâÄôBrien said. The University decided last November to terminate its lease of the 1701 classroom building after its first attempt to buy it was denied. The Archdiocese of St. Paul , the owner of the property, had said the offer was too low. UMore Park University administrators proposed a way to organize a company charged with the task of managing and developing UMore Park . The board voted on the installation of such a company in principle, called the UMore Park Limited Liability Company, last year. Plans to develop the 5,000-acre plot southeast of Minneapolis have been in the works since 2006. The University-owned property offers an extensive financial opportunity in its residential and commercial development. Potential mining of 1,600 acres of gravel will also greatly benefit the University. Run by a chief manager and a nine-member board of governors âÄî five appointed from the private sector and four University administrators âÄî the proposed UMore company would make everyday decisions concerning the land while still answering to the administration and Board of Regents. The five âÄúcommunity governorsâÄù would serve staggered three-year terms. Those from the University would remain until the president removes them. As stated by the proposal, the University would fund the UMore company with âÄúproject proceeds.âÄù In addition, revenue brought in by the development of the land would establish a âÄúlegacy fundâÄù intended for furthering research and academic endeavors. General Counsel Mark Rotenberg emphasized the legacy fund would not replace public or private financial support of the University. Board members voiced concerns over the companyâÄôs repayment of money the University already invested in UMore Park and its ability to incur debt. Rotenberg assured the board the company would pay back the University. He also reiterated the UniversityâÄôs role as ultimate overseer of UMore Park. Regents will vote on the organization of the company and the legacy fund at next monthâÄôs meeting.