U ponders

Robin Huiras

The long arm of the University’s land grant extends into many areas of the metro area and beyond — including a 7,500-acre plot on the edge of urban sprawl.
It is Rosemount, in the southeast region of the Twin Cities metro area, that is home to this expansive track of land. And while it’s the University’s prerogative to use the land as it pleases, most residents want their town to stay rural, free of concrete and full of green space. Their wish might be granted, if the University has its way.
On Wednesday morning, a University-comprised task force met to address concerns borne out of a draft proposal, which outlines ways to utilize the Rosemount property.
While a plethora of proposals have come and gone over the years — from selling the land to the nearby Minneapolis International Airport to building a second University golf course — the proposal doesn’t outline a specific intention. Instead, the document focuses on principles to guide the planning process for the future.
“Everything that goes on (the property) should have an academic purpose connected to the mission of the University,” said Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.
When last spring’s state Legislature rejected a $4 million funding package with which to develop the land, the task force was created to explore other options.
“The request was for the University to go back and create a more inclusive process for the entire facility, not just specific properties,” said Bob Mugaas, coordinator of the proposed Turf and Grounds Research and Education Center, a University golf course that would be used for education and chemical testing.
Since the time of the legislative request’s denial, the University has involved the residents of Rosemount in conversation about ways to utilize the land.
“The document reinforces that the University meets the mission and meets the needs of the community,” said Warren Sifferath, community outreach at the Dakota County Extension Office.

A rough draft
The newly formed task force met throughout the summer to complete the draft. It was distributed within the University, the community and special interest groups, Fisher said.
In October, the public met in Rosemount to discuss the draft. One thing was made clear at the meeting: Residents of the city want the land to remain in University hands.
“The community prefers the University owns it than others — the airport or housing,” Sifferath said. “We’re a good neighbor.”
That approval was hard-won; as it became clear that the University would not sell the property, residents of Rosemount began to accept the University as a neighbor, said Tom Burt, Rosemount city administrator.
“The best thing the University has done is preserve open space,” Burt said.
Incorporated into the proposal is a commitment to work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on what type of research would be appropriate in specific areas of the property, Fisher said.
Additionally, the University needs to find and maintain a variety of financial resources from different places if it is to be a steward of 7,500 acres, Sifferath added.
A final version of the proposal will go before the Board of Regents for approval in February; if approved, the board will then submit the finalized request to the state Legislature’s bonding session in 2000.
Points of contention
The utilization of the Rosemount property has been disputed several times in the past.
Problems and discussion include urban sprawl, environmental pollution and clean-up and a recent golf-course proposal.
Because of its proximity to a growing metropolis, Rosemount faces encroachment from the city. Selling the land to housing developers would hasten this process — something the rural community is against.
Pollution also hinders the farming community; deemed a dangerous waste site by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 1984, the Legislature and the University have spent $14 million and close to 15 years to clean up the site.
The proposed Turf and Grounds Research and Education Center presents the latest conflict. For the project, a golf course aimed at research and education, the University needs to partner with a private firm to fund the site.
Conversation about the turf management program began in 1995 as the brainchild of Mike Martin, former dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences. A partnership with the Minnesota Golf Association allowed University officials to begin preliminary planning — designs that did not sit well with the community.
The biggest concern is not the course itself, Fisher said, but the placing of the facility.
The task force decided in Wednesday’s meeting that constructing the course on the most environmentally sensitive part of the property, especially since the course is testing chemicals to improve turf, is probably not a good idea, Fisher added.
Burt said the community in general is supportive of the concept as it is preservation of open space.
“Not only the golf course, but also the play fields,” Burt said. “Any kind of research to improve on it is wise research.”
But last August, the golf association decided to terminate the partnership. Roger Gordon, former president of the association, would not disclose specific reasons as to why the association dropped out.
“It wasn’t working for MGA,” Gordon said.
According to University officials, the association opted out of the partnership for varying reasons; however, profit and timeliness were key.
“One of the fundamental issues was the desire to have a completed home course by the year 2001, the centennial of the organization,” Mugaas said.
Additionally, issues relating to the partitioning of the revenue may have been a factor, Mugaas added.
“Aside from the monetary aspects, the window of opportunity for the partnership to work was decreasing,” Mugaas added.
While the association’s decision doesn’t affect the goal of the project, it does affect the funding, said Duey Thorbeck, author of the proposal and program director in the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.
The University is now seeking new partners to help build and finance the facility. Potential candidates include Dakota County and the City of Rosemount.
It’s not intended to be an exclusive, high-end course, Mugaas said. Rather, the University wants to be able to build it in a way to capitalize on the land and natural resources.
“In having a long-term course where there could be monitoring done and long and short term research objectives, we’re kind of unique,” Mugaas added.
Although seemingly developed, finalizing the concept is a long way off. Since nobody has agreed to partner, Sifferath said, the concept is in limbo.
“The University will fund a portion of the package, exactly how that is going to break out is a bit premature,” Mugaas said. “We know there are some needs if we’re going to have a research facility — the question is how they get integrated into the package.”
Fisher said it is still an open question — not a given — that the course will be built.

History of the land grant
In early World War II, the U.S. government forced 90 farming families, some with lineage dating back to the time of homesteading, off of the Rosemount property to build a munitions plant. Spending roughly $1 million dollars on Gopher Ordinance Works in 1942, the plant operated one time, to ensure it functioned correctly.
But shortly thereafter, peace was declared; the government sold the property to the University in 1947 for $1. The contract stated two major stipulations: The University could not resell the land for 25 years, and the government can reclaim the property at any time.
The University has maintained the land since; two major entities now occupy the space. The College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences operates the Rosemount Experiment Station, which consumes 3,182 acres of the property. The University Real Estate Office manages a research center on the remaining 4,347 acres.
Fisher said with the proposal, farmers leasing the land must prove that their endeavors are academic or research-oriented.
“Just leasing the property isn’t necessarily the best use of the land,” Fisher said. “In the end, the University has to decide what goes on the land.”