U might purchase frats’ land

by Brad Unangst

The fraternity houses lining University Avenue have marked the campus’ northern edge for more than 70 years.

But over the years, a lack of proper maintenance has resulted in numerous housing and health code violations and raised concerns over the safety of the residents.

To help with repairs and safety, University officials are proposing to purchase the land under seven of the fraternity houses and the student co-op on University Avenue between the Dinkydome and Williams Arena. But the measure is causing some uneasiness in current residents.

The land to be purchased lies under houses that have been identified as needing the most financial assistance, University officials said.

The University will lease the land to the organizations for $1,000 apiece per month. The property in question is currently owned either by the fraternities’ national chapters or through private interests.

As a requirement of the leases, the money from the land’s sale would be used to improve the safety of the houses.

The proposal was presented to the Board of Regents on Thursday and will be discussed further at future board meetings. There is not an estimated time planned for implementation.

“I think our number one concern is the safety of our students living in non-University supervised establishments,” said Regent Anthony Baraga. “I think this is worth looking at.”

Officials said the plan is a result of University President Mark Yudof’s concern over the University Avenue houses.

“The president has very big concerns about living spaces in fraternity houses that have been cited (for housing code violations),” said University chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter. “This is about how we can help those fraternities get money to get code issues up to date.”

University Vice President for Campus Life Robert Jones said “Frat Row” is a piece of the campus, and the University should make sure it remains a viable part of the community.

Minneapolis housing officials said typical violations found in the houses on University Avenue include broken windows, dismantled fire alarms and damaged exteriors.

“These houses need updating and maintenance,” said Pat Hilden, Minneapolis housing inspector.

The repair costs could range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, Hilden said.

To purchase the land, the University would pay the appraised value – currently estimated at $90,000 to $220,000 – for each plot, said Sue Weinberg, University real estate office director.

According to the University plan, the institution would also pay $10,000 to hold the right of first refusal for an additional eight properties in the four-block area, which means it would be able to match any outside offer before the land could be sold to another owner, Weinberg said.

The estimated budget for the project is $1.7 million, and the fraternities’ participation in the proposal is strictly voluntary, she said.

The purchase funds will come from the institution’s central reserves and would not come from fees or tuition paid by students, Pfutzenreuter said.

Aaron Asmundson, greek affairs coordinator in the Campus Involvement Center, helped prepare the proposal and said it is a good option for fraternities who need help repairing their houses.

But some fraternity members are skeptical of the University’s offer.

“I think they are using it as an excuse to buy up the fraternities,” said Craig Post, Phi Kappa Psi president, “so that in a few years they can either use it as student housing or tear it down and put up their own complexes, such as apartment buildings.”

Brent Decker, Interfraternity Council president, said many chapters are concerned about the University’s motives. He said some are concerned the administration will extend the University code of conduct to the houses, but said the proposal could be positive for the greek community.

“This could be a stepping stone for a better relationship if the University follows through with everything they say they will do,” Decker said.

Student co-op President Jason Smith said the University’s plan is a great start to address some of the needs of the houses in the area but might not be the best co-op’s option.

“We own our building. We own the land. I don’t know why we would want the University to buy it,” Smith said.

He said he believes the University is acting in the best interest for preserving Frat Row, however.

University students are as split on the proposal as the administrators and fraternities.

“Fraternity owners should be responsible for the maintenance, just like other property owners,” said Jon Daby, a third-year dental student.

Other students said money could be better spent on funding University cultural programs or lowering tuition.

But Mary Stepnick, a College of Liberal Arts freshman, said although lowering tuition is important, improving the fraternity houses is a good idea.

“It’s good the University is taking responsibility for the people living near campus,” Stepnick said.

University officials said the proposal is in the best interest of all students because it ensures the property will be remain available for institutional use in the event it is sold.

“It could be used for housing, or it could be used for classrooms, or a number of University purposes,” Jones said. “That’s all we’re trying to do here.”

Brad Unangst covers the administration and welcomes comments at [email protected]