U of M, neighborhoods start stadium mitigation talksby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
Talks began this week between the University of Minnesota and surrounding neighborhoods to prepare for construction of the new Gopher football stadium. Discussion is centered on a mechanism for spending $1.5 million designated by the Legislature to offset problems the stadium might cause for nearby residents and businesses. Neighborhood organizations also see the stadium as a means to address long-standing disagreements with university officials over crime, reduced property values and clogged streets.
Minneapolis, Minn. — From the perspective of the residential neighborhoods around it, the University of Minnesota is often regarded as an 800-pound gorilla.
"It's a big, big institution and any time they make a decision they do something, and the earth around them trembles and neighborhoods get trembled along with it," said Steven Banks, who lives in the Prospect Park neighborhood that shares a border with the university campus.
The neighborhood is one of several adjacent residential areas that cope with ongoing struggles that typically happen in places popular with a transient student demographic -- rundown rental houses, vandalism, drugs, loud parties and other crimes.
You might think the addition of a new football stadium would increase neighborhood worries, but Banks said the stadium could help realize a grand vision for a sleepy stretch of University Ave.
"You come over the top of the hill from St. Paul, and dropping away before you in University Ave. is these mid-level, mixed-use buildings," Banks said. "It's an entry to Minneapolis, it's an entry to the University of Minnesota, it's beautifully landscaped, you've got LRT running down the middle. It's a beautiful thing."
The stadium will help, Banks said, because the Legislature designated $1.5 million specifically for the nearby neighborhoods to spend. Banks, who's active in his neighborhood association, said it's possible that money could go toward drafting plans to map future development.
"We're volunteer organizations," he said. "We go to meetings and we sit down with people in $2,000 suits who've been planning their presentations for months, and are highly paid professionals on whatever subject. We're there in our jeans at the end of our day, tired, trying to come up to speed on something."
Of course, Banks' vision is not universal.
The summer lunch crowd is thinning by mid-afternoon at Campus Pizza and Pasta on Washington Ave. The business has been a popular diversion for University of Minnesota students and sports fans since 1959. It clearly stands to benefit from the addition of some 40,000 football fans two blocks away.
For Campus Pizza manager Jim Rosvold, the mitigation money set aside by the Legislature seems too much. If it's spent anywhere, he said, the appropriate place is in sprucing up the streets for game day visitors.
"It was basically a gift from the U of M," Rosvold said. "We don't want to paint buildings or address major issues with it. We're looking at doing streetscaping. I can't speak for the neighborhoods, but I know some people have talked about fixing up housing and stuff. I don't really see that as the intent of the fund."
Rosvold heads the Stadium Village Business Association, a group that represents 100 or so businesses in the area -- which was named for the first on-campus football stadium the university abandoned and tore down three decades ago.
Rosvold and Prospect Park's Banks are both on a committee to figure out how to manage the mitigation funds. Both groups could end up competing for what could be as little as $40,000 a year in interest from the mitigation money.
It's still early in the process, but both say they're confident any differences can be worked out. Both are also encouraged by what they see as active engagement by university officials.
University Community Relations Director Jan Morlock said she and others at the institution hope the stadium planning process might lessen the 800-pound gorilla perception.
"It's hard for human beings and gorillas to talk to each other, but maybe if we can find where we're sort of in the same species, we're going to be able to connect and better understand what the challenges and opportunities are," Morlock said.
For Banks, such talk is new and welcome.
"I think that the university is taking seriously the notion that they have a vested interest in the quality of the neighborhoods that surround the university," Banks said.
Groundbreaking for the new Gopher stadium is tentatively scheduled for the end of September.
- Morning Edition, 07/21/2006, 7:24 a.m.