Law a route for U’s land needs

Nina Petersen-Perlman

The University is feeling growing pains as the East and West banks bump up against their natural borders.

Yet with University realignment and the Biomedical Sciences Research Facilities Authority calling for more world-class facilities, the University has had to get creative with land use.

Some solutions, such as expanding the Carlson School of Management onto land that is now a parking lot, involve making use of space the University already owns.

Another solution steps on more than a few toes by making use of eminent domain.

According to Minnesota eminent domain law, as long as a governmental entity can demonstrate a public purpose for the land, it is allowed to force landowners to sell land to the entity at a fair market price.

The University has acquired parcels around the site of the proposed student stadium. Not since the University purchased in the 1950s the land that is now the West Bank has the University acquired so much land for its Minneapolis campus.

There have been whispers about the University wanting to employ eminent domain to gain holding of the historic Station 19 building (now owned by Station 19 Architects), but University officials haven’t formally said whether they will.

Eminent domain

Sue Weinberg, the University’s director of real estate, said eminent domain very rarely is used.

“Eminent domain would only occur when the University has explored every other site alternative,” Weinberg said. “If your last option is a particular piece of property, then you would seek the necessary approval by the Board of Regents and proceed with the acquisition.”

Property owners may challenge eminent domain decisions by arguing the proposed use for the land is not a public use or is unnecessary to accomplish a public purpose. A state district court must approve the sale.

Board of Regents bylaws require the University to meet with the surrounding community as part of the process, and then the regents must vote.

“It’s not an approval they give willingly and easily,” Weinberg said.

Law School professor Judith Younger said she couldn’t think of an example in which the University had misused its eminent domain rights.

“I know the state has delegated the power of eminent domain to the University and they’re a pretty responsible entity,” Younger said. “I have faith that (the University) won’t abuse its eminent domain power.”

Space needs

The extensive space needs of the University long have been apparent, said Sharon Reich Paulsen, University assistant vice president and chief of staff.

Both East and West banks are bordered by the Mississippi River on one side and business districts on the other, making expansion difficult.

“Space needs is a limiting factor; if we can’t accommodate students beyond a certain number, we aren’t going to think about expanding beyond that number,” Reich Paulsen said.

Orlyn Miller, director of planning and architecture, said the University has not yet reached its building capacity.

“When that becomes an issue, there are ways we should have to look at that,” Miller said. “We need to optimize the use of the properties we have. We might be surprised at how we can increase the use of campus without degrading it.”

Weinberg said the University encourages local business owners to contact it when they have decided to sell land, but Miller said the University doesn’t buy properties without uses for them.

“We don’t just randomly go after (properties) just because they’re close to the University,” Miller said.

Miller said the University likely will grow most to the east and northeast of the current East Bank, where the stadium and Biomedical Authority are planned. For now, he said, the master plan does not include the acquisition of Stadium Village businesses.

“It’s possible there will be some conversations regarding the long-term future of redevelopment in the Stadium Village area,” Miller said. “But there are no intentions of taking over that space at this point.”

Business owners

Weinberg said the University is in negotiations with the owner of Peking Garden to purchase the building in compliance with the stadium plans.

“The owner hasn’t determined how he wants the University to acquire this property,” Weinberg said. “He may specifically ask that the University acquire the property by eminent domain.”

If the University uses eminent domain, the building’s owner would not have to honor its lease to the Peking Garden entity.

Other stadium village business owners such as Harvard Market owner Brad Mateer said that while the University hasn’t indicated it wants his buildings, the threat of eminent domain looms over them.

“It’s always in the background because they have the right to do it,” Mateer said. “That’s what worries us.”

Sue Jeffers, owner of Stub & Herbs, said she might consider selling to the University.

“There’s a price for everything, and if the price was right, sure,” Jeffers said.

But she said she’s not worrying about it happening anytime soon.

“Do you know how fast the University moves?” Jeffers asked. “I don’t worry about it. If it came to that, I’d get a very good lawyer.”