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What should be built in Stadium Village?

Midwestern schools pitched ideas of what should go on the Days Inn property near campus.

“We’re gonna need a bigger proposal.”

This line, derived from the 1975 classic “Jaws,” also directly applies to the mass building expansion seen around campus these days. Yes, the boat is the available land in the area and the massive shark is the developers and construction sites, looking to devour and construct more and more blocks.

Luckily for all humans involved, capturing and developing land is a little less horrifying than a shark trying to chomp at an afternoon snack. Still, the analogy remains true — as the demand for undeveloped land continues to grow, the proposals are getting bigger and bigger.

One of the sites, carrying large amounts in both land area and media attention, is the lot with the Days Inn Hotel and Tea House Chinese Restaurant on Stadium Village’s edge. The hotel and restaurant, as well as several parking lots, are located directly adjacent to the future Stadium Village Green Line light-rail train station and are ripe for a large development.

A joint venture between United Properties and the University of Minnesota, 2407 Investments, recently purchased the site. In February, the Minnesota Daily Editorial Board requested greater transparency in the University’s development role near campus, questioning the joint venture (“The University’s Stadium Village plans,” Feb. 3). In March, the Daily reported that the University wants more of a say in off-campus development (“U wants a say in development,” March 11).

Minneapolis City Councilman Andrew Johnson told the Daily that the city should tap into the school’s “wealth of talent” to lead development. Other than architectural expertise, how could this joint venture specifically gather help from outside talent?

Enter the NAIOP University Real Estate Challenge.

Every year, the national commercial real estate development group, or NAIOP, hosts a challenge for students from regional colleges to pitch what they think would work on a specific site. The NAIOP selected the Days Inn Hotel for this year’s competition. Each team had to come up with a full financial plan and preliminary design for the property.

Six teams from St. Cloud State University, the University of St. Thomas, Marquette University, the University of Northern Iowa, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Minnesota pitched their bids to professional developers, architects and bankers in a closed-door situation. After preliminary judging, the top three teams — Marquette, Wisconsin and Minnesota — presented their pitch a second time to a larger audience, and the judges chose an ultimate winner.

So, what did the three teams pitch? As a member of the University’s group, I can say that each team had interesting and unique ideas that would likely bode well for the area.

The University’s horseshoe venture

The team from the University of Minnesota pitched a large-scale, mixed-use plan containing space for a hotel, grocery store and restaurant; extra retail space; housing catered toward graduate students and visiting professors; and a 15-story office tower containing both University and other private tenants. Titled “The Granary,” the horseshoe-shaped design also contained a 392-stall underground parking ramp and two plazas facing the Green Line LRT station and inside the horseshoe. The team analyzed the 2011 Stadium Village Station Market Study and the 2009 University of Minnesota Master Plan and noted future demand for University offices, because several current buildings on campus are slated for demolition in the near future.

Automated parking and hotel

Marquette’s idea was both the most simple and most risky. Named “Aurum,” the project consisted of a dual-brand hotel containing 240 rooms catering both long-term and short-term stays, as well as several ground-floor restaurant and wine bar slots. The project also contained an innovative automated parking ramp, where vehicles would drive onto a platform that would move the car into the garage. The team’s design set the tall hotel directly adjacent to the light rail station, and it set the parking ramp on the opposite end of the lot near University Village.

Wisconsin’s phased ambition

The team from our rivals to the southeast proposed an ambitious project called “University Station” featuring two separate phases, each containing a hotel. Phase one included a Hampton Inn hotel, several thousand square feet of office and retail space, and a day care center. Phase two included a Homewood Suites hotel, more retail space and a University of Minnesota-owned office building. The plan seemed to be the most encompassing and the most expensive, and the design created a miniature urban village within the block.

The selection

In the end, Marquette’s hotel and parking structure plan won the challenge, with the scores for Wisconsin and the University not far behind. Interestingly, Marquette’s proposal was the only one that did not have University uses, such as expanded office space, within it. Since the judging panel did not include University officials, it is likely far from what will actually become a reality. All plans did give a good introduction for what the site could become in the future.

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