Roseville is turning out to be as wary of the expansionist ambitions of universities in suburban Ramsey County as its neighbor Arden Hills.
Overlapping with a battle pitting Arden Hills against the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, Roseville is expressing concern about the same school overleaping its campus borders and scarfing up office space elsewhere in the city.
The hesitation owes something to the long-standing east metro exasperation over the number of tax-exempt properties located there.
But in a part of the metro on edge about its jobs picture, with major employers pulling up stakes, it’s also about the arithmetic of prime employment per square foot. Classrooms are mostly occupied by transient students, constantly arriving and leaving, with just a smattering of professional positions.
After Arden Hills’ resistance to Northwestern’s attempt to buy a corporate building vacated by Smiths Medical after it left for the west metro, the university applied a full-court press to acquire office property in Roseville. Speaker after speaker has turned up at City Hall to make the school’s case.
Northwestern wanted to move into what civic leaders consider prime office space on Centre Pointe Drive, off Interstate 35W between Interstate 694 and Hwy. 36. City officials last summer gave thumbs down to a proposal for self-storage units in that area, triggering moves to rewrite the list of permissible uses there.
In September, city planners brought the Roseville Planning Commission a proposal by Northwestern to allow for collegiate uses in the Centre Pointe area.
Planning commissioners agreed, voting 5-1 to recommend approval. Roseville Mayor Dan Roe also was on board. But he landed on the losing side as the City Council denied the request on a 3-2 vote.
The council did agree to stage a wider discussion of the permissible uses for the area, which took place last week.
During the debate the collegiate-use issue arose again, and a voice can be heard on a tape of the meeting saying, “I’m open to it.” But in a rapid-fire back-and-forth, it sounded as if there was still no majority for it.
City officials in both Arden Hills and Roseville have hinted they believe that both Northwestern and nearby Bethel University can develop more of their own property before truly needing to jump offshore. They’ve stressed that both schools have strong growth expectations.
Minutes show Roseville Council Member Jason Etten saying that Northwestern had identified “several other options if this request was denied, including on-campus renovations.”
Asked later in the week how Northwestern felt about what was happening in Roseville, the university’s spokesperson replied with an e-mailed statement from Doug Schroeder, vice president for business and CFO.
“University of Northwestern is continually looking to improve and expand our offerings of relevant, high-quality education producing skilled graduates to meet the city’s and the region’s growing employment and economic development needs,” he said. “Our next step in this ongoing effort will be for our board of trustees to consider all of our available options.”