Gateway project mixes history and modern designs

Jake Kapsner

Editor’s note: More than $400 million is earmarked to build and renovate numerous University facilities during the next several years, thanks to private donations and a 1998 capital budget windfall. This is the ninth story in a 10-part series, ‘Reconstructing the U’ detailing how the massive effort will impact students, staff and faculty members and reshape the school’s physical appearance. Next Monday’s issue will explore the renovation of Murphy Hall.
A new University monument is rising from the ashes of the old Memorial Stadium.
The massive alumni and visitor center, called University Gateway, is even resurrecting some memorial rubble in the process: bricks salvaged from the stadium’s 1992 demolition will form a 55-foot-tall arch inside the new building.
That processional arch emphasizes University history, but the overall Gateway design is anything but traditional.
The six-story, 230,000-square-foot building, which has been taking shape on Oak Street and University Avenue since spring, will soon consist of office spaces and assembly halls framed by a dramatic modern design.
Owners stress that although the Gateway is built on University land, neither students nor taxpayers are footing the bill. Most of the $40 million building is financed through low-interest public bonds, but the owners raised about $10 million for the project in private donations from alumni, as well. The bonds will be repaid by charging rent.
The idea for the project has been in the works for almost 40 years. The groups moving into the building say they’re cramped for space in their current locations. They say unifying the tenants’ locations will help bring alumni to the University and to define the campus.
“If you go to most universities, there’s a rather clear definition of arriving on campus. The Gateway will help provide that definition on the east edge of campus, as you see it adjacent to Williams and Marriucci arenas,” said Alumni Association Executive Director Margaret Carlson.
Also, the schools that the University compares itself to — major universities in Texas, Washington and California at Los Angeles — all have alumni centers, said Tom Garrison, association communications director.
But “nobody has what we’re putting up,” he said.

Taking shape
An artistic rendering of the Gateway at night shows slivers of light escaping from thin glass fissures and massive windows glowing on the face of a granite geode rising 90 feet above the ground. An interior sketch shows soft daylight flowing past wooden and copper walls into an open meeting space called Memorial Hall.
But those are visions of the future. Today, workers are assembling the Gateway’s steel and concrete guts on University land, where the privately funded project will house its three owners and a handful of University administrative departments, including the Board of Regents, next fall.
Alumni organizers have long said there’s never been a place to call home at the University.
After decades of planning, leaders of the University Alumni Association say the dream of a Twin Cities campus alumni and visitor center is finally being realized.
The association partnered with the University Foundation and the Minnesota Medical Foundation, two major fund-raising arms of the University, to form the non-profit Gateway corporation, which owns and manages the project.
“We finally have a place where people can come and feel welcome and get the direction and information they need,” said Fred Friswold, former national president of the Alumni Association and volunteer chair of the corporation.
Board members who manage the project see it as more than a new roost, but as a gift to the community.
“The key to our fund raising has been to raise money for public spaces,” said Larry Laukka, past alumni president and volunteer Gateway chief executive officer.
He said donors have contributed about $10 million thus far for Gateway public spaces, like Memorial Hall, which holds 600 people. Other public spaces include Heritage Gallery, where a collection of archival objects, inventions and electronic displays will showcase University history. Four other conference rooms and a dining hall round out the public space.
The corporation will lease 125,000 square feet of office space to the University for 25 years at an estimated annual cost to the University of $2.2 million a year, said budget officer Mike Berthelsen.
Funds for the building’s office space came from low-interest bonds from the City of Minneapolis. The corporation will pay back its debt by leasing office space to the University.

An elaborate design
The Gateway idea precedes University President Mark Yudof’s four-year initiative, “Capital Plan for the Support of Academic Programs in the 21st Century,” but it certainly follows suit. The Yudof plan emphasizes a mix of historic preservation and 21st century modernism, a motto many Gateway supporters have hung on their philosophical flagpoles.
“There was no place on campus where you could find any evidence of the great people, the heritage … and inventions” of the University, Friswold said.
With more than a $1 million investment in the Heritage Gallery alone, he said it’ll be “a place that provides the sizzle.” The space will have video walls that can be programmed for specific events, and there’s talk of having live video feeds from other campuses, Friswold said.
Gateway architect Antoine Predock explained the Gateway’s relatively elaborate design and hefty price tag as necessary.
“It’s not excessive space based on the departmental need,” he said. “It’s tight.”
While Predock said he chose materials that reflect the Minnesota landscape, the structure “is not literally related to other buildings on campus any more than the Weisman (Art Museum) is,” he said.
“It’s not meant to be the same. It’s meant to be bold and stand out,” he said.
“Some people will probably love it and some people will probably hate it,” he said.
The unfinished structure is lauded with the endearing praise of its creators, who say the “bold design” offers a literal and figurative gateway to the University.
The name Gateway indicates a physical entrance to campus from the east, just like the Weisman is a gateway from the west, Predock said.
“I think the term ‘Gateway’ is more metaphorical, a symbolic entry for a lot of students,” he said.

The owners
Fund raising for the Gateway has been an on-going project, and the $10 million is a small piece of the University’s total gift revenue, said Martha Douglas, communications director for the University Foundation.
The foundation garnered more than $135 million in donations to the University in 1998, including the second-largest single gift ever — $10 million, from Richard “Pinky” McNamara in October; about one-third of that donation is likely going to the Gateway.
The Minnesota Medical Foundation brought in $30 million last year.
But University fund-raising efforts often go unnoticed, Douglas said.
“There’s a big range of external activity that’s maybe hard to fathom when you’re a student,” she said.
Gift money is funneled back into things like student scholarships, research, and the academic departments.
The foundations believe the new hub will help raise more money and give them needed breathing space.
“We’re practically on top of each other, it’s very crowded,” Douglas said of the 80 University Foundation employees working in the West Bank Office Building near Interstate 35.
“For us, it would be better to be on campus. We feel removed over here,” she said.
The Medical Foundation is “at the absolute break point” in its quest for space as well, said Bob Groves, vice president for development.
Moving from the medical building into the Gateway unites the three owners’ “common purpose in a common space,” he said.
The University’s Alumni Association touts an outreach mission of improving students’ educational experiences and crafting University pride. This year, the association has more dues-paying members than ever before: 40,000. That number magnifies the chances of linking students with members in their mentorship program.
The hope is that Gateway will make their outreach goals more visible and attainable.
“The idea of enrolled students having a chance to use the space while they’re here is a good one,” said Jennifer Molina, a student representative to the Board of Regents.
Even if students only used the Gateway for conferences, events or as a study lounge, student involvement benefits all parties, she said.
Fellow regents representative and University student Scott Roethle said such a visible mentorship program could help recruit new students. The Gateway could also help connect corporations to the University, he said.

The plaza
To make way for a grassy Gateway plaza tucked between Oak and Walnut streets along University Avenue, the University plans on removing the 320-space parking lot C82, and building a 300-space underground ramp with an entrance on Oak Street.
Ramp construction hasn’t begun yet, but officials said it should be finished with the Gateway next fall, at an estimated cost of $10 to $13 million.
The parking lots that the overall Gateway project replaced had a capacity of 900, and officials are seeking ways to accommodate people during the expected crunch.
An updated plaza concept was approved by the regents. Entertainment features above the underground parking lot will be added, pending the Gateway corporation’s ability to raise an additional $2.5 million. The new plaza design is centered around an outdoor winter ice rink and summer amphitheatre. The design also incorporates a fire pit and barbecue area and an outdoor reflecting pool.
Near the site where crowds once cheered on the Gophers football team, officials hope to create a new green space that will once again draw people to the University with a dash of hearty school pride.