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Feature

An artist's rendering of the proposed new Gopher on-campus football stadium

A new stadium would be located on the University's Huron Avenue parking complex and have a seating capacity of 50,000.

Proposed deal with state would increase funding for stadium

House may vote on stadium bill today

By Rick Moore

Published March 27, 2006; updated April 6

The University of Minnesota's quest to build a new on-campus football stadium moved forward when the Board of Regents approved a new plan March 27 that would provide more state money for a stadium in exchange for a parcel of University-owned land at UMore Park being set aside for a state-owned nature reserve. The regents approved the proposal by a vote of 11-1 in a special meeting on March 27.

On March 28, the Minnesota Student Association (MSA), which represents undergraduate University of Minnesota students, passed a resolution supporting the revised plan, also with only one dissenting vote. The MSA endorsement came one day after a similar endorsement by the Faculty Consultative Committee, which represents University faculty.

Under the plan, the state of Minnesota would acquire 2,840 acres of property at UMore Park--located near Rosemount in Dakota County--at a cost of approximately $9.4 million each year for 25 years. The environmentally sensitive land would become permanently protected by the state for public use and managed by the Department of Natural Resources. And the University would reserve the right to conduct research on the land in perpetuity, according to the guiding principles the University has set for UMore Park.

The money from the state would go toward debt service on the bonds to fund construction of the stadium. The state's total contribution to the stadium, under the new plan, would be $124 million--half of the total cost.

UMore Park

UMore Park's 7,700 acres were donated to the University in 1947 by the U.S. government. Part of the site still has architectural remnants from its use as an ordnance manufacturing facility during World War II. The park has a rich history of Native American and immigrant farming relationships. The Vermillion River is just south of UMore Park, and on the property is one of the few original forest groves still remaining in the area.

UMore Park is also home to dozens of faculty research and student projects, ranging in areas such as field crops and animal production to carbon sequestration and water-quality issues.

The recently developed Lone Rock Trail in UMore Park is a hit with hikers, skiers, and horseback riders. More than 10 miles long, the trail winds through woods and over ridges and wetlands, and spotlights a local landmark--the mighty Lone Rock.

"I believe this is a real 'win-win' for the University and the entire state of Minnesota," President Bob Bruininks said at the meeting. "It will result in some of the most beautiful, undeveloped land in the region being protected for generations to come, and it will provide the financing we need to bring Gopher football back the campus, where I think it rightfully belongs."

The legislation would also enable the University to cut in half the proposed student fee to help pay for the stadium, from $50 per semester to $25 per semester. "Under this plan, we'll be able to significantly reduce the amount students will be asked to pay for the new stadium," Bruininks said. "We're hopeful... the Legislature will act quickly to give our private-sector fundraising more momentum."

The new proposal, if approved by the Legislature, would replace the University's current stadium bill. That bill engages the state in a 60-40 University-state partnership in financing a stadium.

"As a part of this [new] proposal, the state of Minnesota will gain nearly 3,000 acres of pristine land that is within 25 minutes of downtown St. Paul, [and] the University of Minnesota [will obtain] the funds they need to help support their stadium proposal," Governor Tim Pawlenty said in a statement on March 24, the day the plan was announced. "The bipartisan leadership for this proposal is very encouraging. I urge legislators to support this 'win-win' for the state and the University."

In February, the University hired Sasaki Associates, Inc., of Watertown, Mass., to help it develop a vision and comprehensive plan for the UMore Park property. While the new proposal does alter the scope of the project, the planning process will continue. Sasaki's report is due on November 30.

The proposal is now in the form of an amendment on Gopher stadium bills being considered at the Legislature. In the Senate, the amendment was approved by the Higher Education Budget Division. In the House, the amendment has been approved by both the Capital Investment and the Ways and Means Committees, and a floor vote on the Gopher stadium bill could take place as early as Thursday, April 6.

The new proposal would have no effect on the sponsorship agreement between the University and TCF Financial Corp. Under the agreement, TCF will contribute $35 million toward the stadium costs.