A new proposal to fund an on-campus football stadium at the University of Minnesota would swap 2,840 acres of U-owned land near Rosemount for a bigger state contribution for a stadium.
The plan, unveiled Friday evening, is for the state to pay $9.4 million a year for 25 years to finance bonds for a stadium. In return, the state would own the land after 25 years and create a nature preserve. The land in the Vermillion River watershed contains a trout stream, forests, rolling hills and trails for horseback riders.
"This legislation is a win-win for the university and the entire state," U President Robert Bruininks said.
"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 to campus," the president's statement continued.
The university's Board of Regents will meet Monday to consider the plan. Committee hearings on the proposal are set for Tuesday in the Minnesota Senate and Wednesday in the House.
State Rep. Dennis McNamara, R-Hastings, said he and Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, approached university officials about the idea after it was suggested to him about 10 days ago by a leader of the hunting advocacy group Pheasants Forever.
"This is a once-in-forever opportunity for the state of Minnesota," said McNamara, who grew up near the land. "It's some of the most prime, diverse, beautiful land in Minnesota, a real outdoor environment a half-hour from the downtown areas."
A park-like parcel
The university has owned 7,700 acres of land near Rosemount since it was donated by the federal government in 1947. Called UMore Park, it includes the site of a former munitions factory as well as farm fields, research buildings and the park-like land that would go to the state. The university has been studying what to do with the land, which once was isolated but now is bordered by fast-developing suburbs. In some areas it is worth upwards of $35,000 an acre.
A previous stadium proposal had the state paying $7.4 million annually in debt service for 25 years, putting 60 percent of the stadium's $249 million cost on the university. Under the new plan, the additional $2 million that the state would pay each year essentially splits the cost of an open-air, 50,000-seat stadium equally between the state and the school, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the university's chief financial officer.
It also would allow the university to trim in half its proposed $100-a-year student fee for the stadium. The fee has recently become a focus of legislative criticism of the project.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, legislative leaders, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Metropolitan Council were involved in negotiations over the project, McNamara said. Other legislators were informed of it at 4:30 p.m. Friday via an e-mail signed by Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka; House Deputy Minority Leader Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis; Senate President James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, and Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina.
"The bipartisan leadership for this proposal is very encouraging," said a news release from Pawlenty. "I urge legislators to support this win-win for the state and the university."
Michel is a sponsor of stadium legislation that has been stalled since last year. "We get more than a stadium now," he said. "This is a good first down. We're getting closer to the end zone."
While university officials valued the land at $15,000 an acre, or a total of $42 million, McNamara said its real worth could be more than $100 million.
Under the proposal, the DNR would manage the land for public access over the 25-year payment period while the university retained ownership, McNamara said. Once the payments were complete, he said, the state would take title. The U would retain the right to conduct research on the land in perpetuity.
Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, has called for elimination of a naming-rights deal with TCF Financial Corp. that would contribute $35 million to the project. Pogemiller could not be reached for comment Friday. The new proposal does not affect the U's agreement with TCF.
If a stadium law passes, the university immediately would start road work in preparation for stadium construction. Officials want the stadium to open in fall 2009.