U OKs land deal to help stadium

Nina Petersen-Perlman

The University’s Board of Regents on Monday approved in an 11-1 vote the proposed legislation to transfer 2,840 acres of the University’s UMore Park near Rosemount to the state as a public nature preserve.

As part of the agreement, the state would split the cost of an on-campus football stadium with the University, instead of paying 40 percent as originally intended.

If the bill passes, the state would pay off $124 million of stadium-related bonds over 25 years in an annual amount of $9.4 million, which includes the costs of debt service. During that time, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would co-manage the area, which must be left undeveloped, with the University.

The legislation would reduce the proposed increase of per-semester student fees from $50 to $25 for the next 25 years.

University President Bob Bruininks said the University argued strongly to leverage this proposal as an opportunity to reduce student fees supporting the stadium.

Bruininks said the agreement has been in the works for little more than a week, but had its origins in a long-term University study of what to do with the 7,500 acres of undeveloped land in UMore Park.

“It’s not a precipitous, impulsive proposal,” Bruininks said. “It’s a proposal grounded in years and years of work, but the actual form of the proposal came up within the past two weeks.”

Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, echoed Bruininks and several regents by calling the deal a “win-win” for the state and the University.

“It’s a way for the University to get financial value from that property and put it toward some efforts they think is important for the University,” Ozment said.

Regent Frank Berman, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said the process was difficult. Sasaki Associates, the firm the Board of Regents awarded a contract to look at potential uses for UMore Park, is in the midst of its six-month study of the land.

“The resolution would prejudice other uses,” Berman said. “It’s too valuable a piece of property to do it piecemeal.”

Regent Tony Baraga said he was concerned the agreement would set a precedent of parceling off University-owned land every time it is in need of state funds.

“Is this going to be setting a precedent for further dealings with the state or any other group when it comes to getting capital funds from the state?” Baraga asked. “I think we should be very clear that this is not a precedent-setting thing, that this is a one-time event.”

Regent David Metzen said he has been to the park “hundreds of times,” and thinks of it as the state’s most valuable and most beautiful property.

“I would never swap, trade or be held hostage to get a stadium,” Metzen said. “To me, this is doing what’s right with this property.”

The U.S. Defense Department donated the 7,500 acres that became UMore Park to the University after World War II.

It since has been used for University research in agriculture, natural resources landscaping and architecture, and is home to some endangered species.