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The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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Group offers new proposal for college housing concerns

A St. Paul group’s proposal could solve the housing crunch facing many Twin Cities students.

During the past seven months, University United, a coalition of St. Paul neighborhood councils, contacted several local colleges, including the University, and the city of St. Paul about its plans to build more than 100 student housing units along University Avenue.

Brian McMahon, United’s executive director, said the development could involve two or three housing projects and incorporate other college amenities, such as a library.

“It’s possible we could do a pretty substantial campus of some sorts,” McMahon said.

The proposed costs, locations and number of units have not been finalized.

The details of college involvement also haven’t been determined, but McMahon said this could come through lease arrangements or reserved space for particular schools.

Several colleges have expressed initial interest but are waiting for more details before committing.

Doug Hennes, University of St. Thomas vice president for university and government relations, said the majority of the school’s undergraduates are commuters and the development could provide inexpensive housing nearby.

But Hennes said St. Thomas must determine if its students would have enough interest in the project before making any decisions.

Mary Ann Ryan, director of the University’s Housing and Residential Life office, said the proposal “has a lot of potential,” but there currently are too many unknowns.

While interest from the colleges is tentative, St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly supports the development.

“It’s part of a more comprehensive economic development and housing strategy,” Kelly said.

Besides providing more affordable housing for students, he said, he wants to develop University Avenue as a “major commercial corridor.” The student presence will support area retailers and provide the city with a pool of workers.

Kelly said he will use the mayor’s “bully pulpit” to bring together all the parties, and he is confident a deal will be reached.

“This will become a reality,” Kelly said.

McMahon said housing along a busy corridor would benefit students by placing them near University Avenue bus routes and removing them from “someone’s backyard.”

For the last two decades, he said, students have increasingly moved away from their campuses and settled in residential neighborhoods.

He said the students have kept families out of neighborhoods, and parties and overcrowded parking conditions that migrate with them have caused friction with residents.

“By designing housing that is specifically around the needs and uses of college students, we will solve a whole host of problems,” McMahon said.

Within the next few weeks, he said, city-coordinated meetings will be held with all the colleges, which should resolve who is still interested and what development models will be followed.

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