The front door to the University of Minnesota is about to get bigger.

When the McNamara Alumni Center was built on Oak Street on the school's Minneapolis campus, there was hope that the angular boulder-like building with the soaring atrium would host university, alumni and private meetings and receptions.

With 900 events per year, the building has become snug.

On Friday, the Board of Regents approved plans for a $9.7 million expansion that will add event and office space. When complete, the building will be able to host two large events simultaneously and will have a new entrance and atrium on the campus side of the building.

"It's done more than anyone ever imagined," said Tom LaSalle, the past president of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. "We thought it would be the front door, we knew there would be events there but certainly not 900.

"It's a great problem to have. We bring a lot of people back to campus."

The building, while on university property, is owned by the Alumni Association, U of M Foundation and Medical Foundation. Those three, which make up the University of Minnesota Gateway Corporation, will pay for the addition.

Construction is scheduled to be completed by next September, in time for the opening of TCF Bank Stadium. The proximity of the new football stadium was another factor in expansion.

"I thought it would be successful, but not as successful as it is today," university President Robert Bruininks said. "It's been a gateway into the University of Minnesota. I think with the new stadium, the confluence of these two buildings will bring many, many more people to campus."

Budget discussions

Also Friday, the regents also had a lengthy discussion on the university's proposed budget request it will send to the Legislature.

If approved by the regents at next month's meeting in Duluth, the U will ask for a $142 million increase in funding over the next two years.

Regent David Larson said the university should consider lowering planned tuition rates that would increase by an average of 4.5 percent over each of the next two years.

"We need to try to find a way to do better," Larson said.

Bruininks, however, said he doesn't think a smaller increase is possible.

"I believe it is a fair increase to ask students to pay, particularly given the extraordinary work the university does to discount tuition through scholarships and grants," he said. "Very few students will pay that full increase."

Regent Dean Johnson predicted trouble ahead for the university's budget request in light of the state's financial problems.

"It could pass, but it's going to be very, very difficult in these budgetary times," said Johnson, who spent 28 years in the Legislature. "I won't definitely say yes, I won't definitely say no.

"The mountain is tall, we can see the top, but it's going to take a lot of maneuvering to get there."

Jeff Shelman • 612-673-7478