Spending a little may just get UMore

Development of the Rosemount complex would provide a research utopia.

by Nora Leinen

As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. During recent economic times this may seem ridiculous, as costs are soaring and jobs are in peril, but this idea stands as true as always. When discussing the University of Minnesota Outreach, Research and Education (UMore) Park, we should keep this in mind. But first, letâÄôs remind ourselves the history of this piece of property and the future it could represent. The University was given the 7,686-acre parcel of land in Rosemount in two parts by the U.S. Government in 1947 and 1948. The government declared the parcel was surplus land to be given for the best public use. The University proposed to use the land for medical, agricultural and aeronautical engineering research, housing and foundation design. In 2005, the Board of Regents approved planning on UMore Park for what is now envisioned as a research haven and a âÄúblank slateâÄù for creating a sustainable residential community. Since then, the University has developed plans to create a veritable utopian community of about 30,000 residents that would be focused on economic, academic and environmental sustainability. And why not? The University has a blank piece of paper in which to imagine how we can build communities and effectively use green energy. If thereâÄôs any way to increase the research capabilities of our University, this is it. The Academic Mission Advisory Board was created in 2008 to ensure that development of UMore focuses on the UniversityâÄôs academic mission. While development continues, the advisory board is there to make sure ample research opportunities are provided and advertised to students and faculty. âÄúThe opportunity is, itâÄôs a very large area that if itâÄôs fully or even partially developed would have a huge impact on the region,âÄù said Michael Greco a graduate student in urban planning and member of the advisory board. âÄú[For] just about any academic discipline, you could find a way to do some interesting research or teaching around it.âÄù UMore is not devoid of inherent resources either. Gravel mining, set to begin next year, will almost immediately make the land, as it is, economically sustainable and continue to produce revenue for the next 40 years. âÄúThere are lots of universities that have gravel mines, there are lots of universities that have oil wells,âÄù Vice President for Statewide Strategic Resource Development Charles Muscoplat said, âÄúuniversities these days use their resources to make money to cover their bills.âÄù Currently, part of the land is used for University research and part is also rented out to local farmers. The current research on the land will need to be relocated once development starts, but Muscoplat believes other areas that are not slated for immediate development can be made available. The larger problem facing UMoreâÄôs land use is pollution. Between 1942 and 1945, the army built 845 buildings for a munitions factory on the land and knocked them all down in 1947. There are 300,000 tons of concrete still on the land, and 2,500 acres of land sit unused under that concrete and chemical pollution. While the University is not sure what the pollution cleanup will look like, there is talk of making the Army clean up the mess. So letâÄôs talk risks. True, the economy is not what it used to be, and itâÄôs hard to imagine the housing market getting much worse. With a large portion of the land slated for a new visionary real estate development, we can see the future of UMore Park is slightly fuzzier than the immediate mining and research opportunities projected. However, the University is not looking to develop this part of the land on its own. The University plans to find a private contractor to implement its designs. âÄúWe will provide our plan and our knowledge and our faculty and student skills and we will participate in these businesses be they solar âĦ be they new kinds of school systems,âÄù Muscoplat said. âÄúWe donâÄôt anticipate putting any University money or gravel money into the real estate development. We just made a decision that weâÄôre not going to put any University money into real estate development other than creating the vision.âÄù Arthur Huang, third-year graduate student in Urban Planning and Civil Engineering, served on the AMAB for UMore and said he has some concern about its economic sustainability, especially considering the current real estate market. However, Huang believes this should not paralyze the project. âÄúI believe itâÄôs a good thing to move forwardâÄù said Huang. âÄúWe should prepare for the future. The whole country is in a recession status, but that does not mean we shouldnâÄôt do anything to guarantee the livelihoods of Minnesotans.âÄù With talk of cutting academic programs on campus, serious questions have been raised about the priorities of the University. But UMore is not part of the problem; rather it has potential to be part of the solution. Although the money from gravel mining wonâÄôt solve the UniversityâÄôs economic problems, it does allow UMore to sustain itself while providing a place for students and faculty to conduct research. âÄúI am jealous of the people 30 years from now who will really be able to see the development come to fruition,âÄù said Greco. The University community should consider UMore a canvas for the future and for the design of sustainable lifestyles. As community members, we have been granted a unique opportunity for innovation at UMore Park. Whether the project leaves you inspired or skeptical, now is the time to get involved. Nora Leinen welcomes comments at [email protected]