Revenue needed to fund planned Coffman facelift

Coffman Memorial Union was cut into pieces and devoured Thursday afternoon, as a cake bearing an image of the East Bank landmark was served to those attending a ceremony honoring Maggie Towle.
The reception was held to commemorate the start of Towle’s first academic year as director of the Minneapolis Student Unions. She was appointed to the post in July.
Towle hopes to finalize plans to renovate Coffman, but the $30 million project must be funded without dramatically increasing student service fees or asking the University for money.
To raise the money needed for the renovation, planners will look into options such as corporate sponsorship, foundation grants and increased retail presence.
Commercial tenants in Coffman now pay about $20 a year for each square foot of space they use, said AndrÇ Viktora, president of the Board of Governors for the Minneapolis Student Unions.
Student groups which have their offices in the union pay between $2 and $6 per square foot. The University food service pays between $.97 and $1.5 per square foot plus utilities.
“What we’re working on is to actually get (the food services) up to paying a commercial rate so we can make money off of that space,” Viktora said. To charge food services more, Coffman needs to attract more pedestrian traffic from students and passers-by.
Towle envisions a food court, a music store and a large book store, for example, in the renovated union. She also hopes to keep student group offices and other current services there, which might mean the union would have to expand.
“This is a very large facility,” Towle said, “If we do start bringing in some of what I call anchor stores, we could be short on space in a big hurry.”
Currently, the LaSalle Group Ltd., a Twin Cities consulting firm, is working with the University to help decide how to use the space. Officials from the Minneapolis Student Unions will be meeting with student organizations next week to discuss the union, Viktora said.
“We need everyone’s input,” Viktora said. “We’re looking for ways to solicit that input.”
Student involvement in the renovation is sought by planners because the student union can’t turn to the University for funding.
“This needs to be a student-drawn project if it’s ever going to happen because the regents have already said they want to put a freeze on new construction,” Viktora said.
Project planners have been consulting the Board of Regents, Viktora said, and she doesn’t expect regents will object to the construction because it should not use University money.
Towle said that, historically, the union has been funded 60 percent by student service fees and 40 percent through other sources of income like rent and profits from the game room. She hopes to reverse that ratio so that the union earns 60 percent of its money from commercial ventures.
By the end of the current fiscal year next June, Towle said, several architects will produce conceptual drawings of what Coffman might look like. The consulting firm and administrators will also come up with a business plan of what kinds of retailers could succeed in Coffman.
A permanent architect will likely be chosen to draw up a final plan next year, and construction could begin in 1998 or 1999.