New housing sites proposed

by Sarah McKenzie

In an effort to quench the demand for on-campus student housing, a new residence hall behind Coffman Memorial Union sits atop University President Mark Yudof’s administrative agenda.
McKinley Boston and JoAnne Jackson, both top officials in the Yudof administration, unveiled new proposals for student housing to the Board of Regents in December — keying in on five possible sites.
A 300-bed housing development, which would overlook the Mississippi River and be located behind Coffman, is the site favored by many regents and Yudof.
Mary Anne Ryan, director of Housing and Residential Life, said the south Mall project is consistent with the University’s Master Plan. The plan, drawn up by a Toronto-based architecture firm in 1996, is a long-range building schedule for the University.
“It will create a community on the river,” Ryan said.
She said the project will create “synergy and excitement” if approved by regents. Official approval of the project could come in February.
Yudof said the south Mall development will improve the character of the campus and alleviate limited housing opportunities.
But officials are also identifying other alternatives because one building may not be enough to handle the housing crunch. Boston and Jackson pointed to two possible projects on the West Bank, a site in the heart of Dinkytown on Fourth Street and 15th Avenue, a project near Norris Hall on the East Bank and a site on Como Avenue on the St. Paul campus.
Currently, 76.3 percent of all freshman live in the residence halls, up from 69.5 percent in 1996. The new plans are also geared toward keeping students in campus housing past their first year.
The site on the south Mall, in addition to the other possible sites, would be targeted toward upperclassmen. It would be comparable to other private housing complexes on campus that offer apartment-style suites, both in price and amenities. The monthly rent for the new housing would be about $400 per tenant.
Although expensive construction costs could hike up the new housing costs, Jackson said subsidies from total University housing revenue could keep the rent down.
Still, the timeline for construction might be a more crucial factor. Regents said they were increasingly concerned about student housing needs and urged speedy resolutions to remedy the situation.
“The need for housing is very acute and chronic,” Regent Maureen Reed said.
Regent Jessica Phillips, a master’s student in the Carlson School of Management, echoed Reed, and said students need more options soon.
“We don’t expect ceramic tiles. We just expect a livable environment, at a reasonable cost,” Phillips said.
Discussion at the December meeting centered around information from recent market analysis that found an increasing number of students from outside the Twin Cities metro area enrolling at the University.
Over the past four years the number of students enrolling from outside the metro area has increased more than 11 percent. During the same period, the number of students from the Twin Cities enrolling at the University has declined by an equal percentage.
Apartments near campus also have a very low vacancy rate, suggesting that students probably have few housing options. Using a series of calculations, University administrators pegged the 1998 campus area housing shortage to be about 300 beds.
Given these figures, administrators are considering construction of a housing structure with 175 beds. Such a complex, an idea which regents were introduced to for the first time, could be quickly built on the corner of Fourth Street and 15th Avenue in Dinkytown.
“I’m perplexed about how to proceed,” Yudof said. He said more information is needed to determine whether 475 beds (the south Mall development plus the Dinkytown site) would exceed student demand.
Many regents voiced support for the additional housing besides the complex planned for the south Mall. Again, urgency was emphasized.
Boston urged against hasty construction decisions, especially in the case of the building planned for behind Coffman.
“It probably won’t happen within two years,” Boston said. “Any time you put a project on the fast track you run the risk of incurring more costs.”