UMore Park will likely never become the eco-friendly, 30,000-resident utopia that's already cost the University of Minnesota millions of dollars.

A task force that U President Eric Kaler charged last year with re-examining the institution's approach to the site has come back with a report outlining how to proceed: Maximize the site's research potential before mining — and, ultimately, outside development — takes over.

"At the end of the day, it's not even going to look like those pretty pictures," said U Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter. "We all know that."

The Board of Regents will decide Friday whether to adopt the task force's recommendations.

The 5,000-acre property is located in Rosemount and Empire Township, 25 miles southeast of the Twin Cities. U leaders have spent years contemplating a long-term vision for building what UMore Park's website describes as "a unique, sustainable, University-founded community of 20,000 to 30,000 people" over the course of 25 to 30 years.

But it hasn't been that simple. In the wake of the economic downturn, the appetite for such a development has waned.

Additionally, parts of the site are contaminated with the remnants of a World War II-era ammunition plant. The U's environmental consultant estimated in 2012 that cleanup to make the area amenable to the U's development plans could cost between $6.8 million and $14.7 million.

In October, Kaler directed the seven-member UMore Park Review Committee to review the land's use and management.

"Given changing market conditions and University priorities … I have become increasingly concerned about our process and plans for UMore Park and want to assure that we are proceeding in the best interest of the University," he wrote in an Oct. 14 letter to the committee.

Between 2006 and the end of fiscal year 2014, the U spent nearly $12.5 million on administration, planning and development for UMore Park, according to the report. In that time, expenses overtook revenue by nearly $3.5 million.

A new gravel mining operation on the site's western side could bring in about $90 million over the course of the U's 40-year agreement with mining company Dakota Aggregates. But the mining presents a threat to agricultural research.

Last year, research trials conducted on 518 acres brought in about $6.3 million in research grant funding, according to the report.

"The most valuable and extensive land use for research is in the western region of UMore Park, and this overlays the region to be mined," the report said. Once an area is mined, its research value is gone.

Mining has begun on the northwest portion of the site and will move southward in 15 to 25 years, per the agreement with Dakota Aggregates. However, there's a clause stipulating that Dakota Aggregates can potentially start new mining with just three years' notice — not enough time for researchers to figure out Plan B if they have to move.

Lost research land could mean the loss of more than $70 million in research funding over 40 years, according to the report. Much of that could be offset, though, if the three-year clause were deleted.

The report recommends exactly that — in other words, a moratorium on mining in certain areas to protect access to valuable research sites and allow researchers to plan for a future transition.

Market-driven development

The report recommends a development approach dictated by the market. Committee members say that doesn't mean the original idea is off the table — if consumers want an eco-friendly community, they can have it — but the U won't build it.

"The sense … that the University was going to be the developer and use its balance sheet, or subsidize, a sustainable community is not something this proposal now contemplates," Pfutzenreuter said.

That means more responsibility for local municipalities, even as the U continues to have a role in deciding how the land is sold and developed. In Rosemount, city leaders and staff are ready to get started.

"We certainly are interested, and have been working with [the U] for years and certainly expect to do so in the future," said Community Development Director Kim Lindquist.

If all goes according to plan, the U will become a smaller and smaller part of UMore Park's future.

"When it's all said and done, the University will not have a presence or an ownership role down there," Pfutzenreuter said. "This will be a community in the city of Rosemount and Empire Township."

Emma Nelson • 952-746-3287