UMore Park sketches narrowed to 7

by Ahnalese Rushmann

A proverb mused that it takes a village to raise a child. Now, the University is finding out how many people it takes to create such a village and what the obstacles are.

Several groups, including a design firm, the Metropolitan Council and more than 100 faculty members, are working to develop the University of Minnesota Outreach, Research and Education Park – the University’s 5,000-acre site near Rosemount that it hopes to turn into a livable, sustainable community for nearly 30,000 people.

A planning committee recently narrowed 30 preliminary sketches of the new park to about seven, said Charles Muscoplat, vice president for statewide strategic resource development and head of UMore plans.

Sketches could be shown to University President Bob Bruininks and the Board of Regents as early as May or June, Muscoplat said, adding that a final plan could be chosen within a couple of years.

Sketches range from traditional schemes to the avant garde, he said, but the final plan needs to be marketable.

“I don’t think we can sell something shocking,” he said. “At the end of the day, people are going to have to buy this.”

Population density and the ratio of industrial to residential space are factors being considered, Muscoplat said.

Progressive plans call for tightly packed neighborhoods in order to be more energy-efficient, he said, a shift from traditional, non-urban Midwest communities.

“Are (Minnesotans) willing to live in more high density for the sake of being sustainable and more efficient?” Muscoplat said.

One building obstacle for any plan will be removing large gravel deposits from the ground, which could take decades to recover, he said. But building basic features, like streets, could start as early as three to five years from now.

Last October, Muscoplat told The Daily the gravel’s value could be anywhere from $50 million to $200 million, at the rate of a dollar per ton. He said he didn’t want to comment now on the estimated amount or worth of the gravel because it’s still being evaluated.

Gravel mining would also create trenches in the ground that could be used for geothermal energy, he said.

Another challenge will be to assess what degree the park can rely on renewable energy, said Judith Martin, director of the University’s urban studies program.

Transportation is another concern, said Martin, who is also a member of the UMore Park management committee.

“If you build a community that’s 25 miles away and everybody has to drive, that doesn’t make it the most sustainable place,” she said.

Luke Wolf, a mechanical engineering sophomore, is unaffiliated with the project but, as a community member, said creating a mass-transit system could ease the commute between UMore and the Twin Cities.

The costs to create UMore are risky but it could be a worthwhile investment, he said.

Martin said there are several planned community models from the past to look to, such as Jonathan: the planned neighborhood in Chaska created in 1966.

“The scale of this is a lot bigger than most,” she said, adding UMore will be planned by the University, not an outside developer.

Hannah Quaid, an architecture junior who is also not directly affiliated with the project, said the park sounded far-fetched at first, but, if successful, it could serve as an environmental model for other communities.

The environmental impact from a World War II-era gun powder factory on the site should be evaluated as well, she said.

Muscoplat said there are skeptics who doubt UMore Park’s feasibility, but plans are still running ahead of schedule.

“I see every reason why we can deliver on the promise,” he said. “It’s hard work building a city for 30,000 people.”