New project renews Prospect Park resident concerns about University expansion

Some Prospect Park residents are worried the University of Minnesota is planning to seize their homes in order to complete future projects.

The University is planning to build a $182.5 million Ambulatory Care Center just east of Frontier Hall, and some are worried about what could come next should the University decide it wants to expand on the property around the center.

“There are people who own homes in that neighborhood, and they are unsure as to whether the University is going to buy them out,” said Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association master planning chair Tamara Johnson. “There’s a larger looming issue of uncertainty that hasn’t been resolved.”

The 2009 Twin Cities Campus Master Plan highlights portions of Prospect Park for future growth.

University Capital Planning and Project Management departmental director Monique MacKenzie said the University is aware of community concerns and has applied community feedback to the project’s design.

The University is building the center with Fairview Health Services to provide a much-needed expansion that will allow clinics to move out of the outdated Phillips Wangensteen Building.

MacKenzie said the project has been in the works for about a decade, but the University will make up for lost time with an “aggressive” construction schedule. The project is scheduled to break ground in January 2014, with the doors opening in early 2016.

MacKenzie said she’s heard the University may have circulated a letter to residents in the past implying the school could use eminent domain to seize private land from property owners unwilling to sell. But she said the school has changed its policy since then.

“The approach we’ve been taking is people have to be willing to sell for there to be a transaction,” she said.

She said the University doesn’t intend to implement its land-grant right to procure private property anywhere — now or in the future.

“I can’t fault people for [their concern],” MacKenzie said. “If it would happen once, why wouldn’t it happen again?”

The University has sent purchase offers to residences around the site of the new center, but no money has changed hands so far, she said.

Johnson said PPERIA will be watching closely. The community has raised concerns for years, she said, but things have improved recently.

The University has no additional projects planned for the area at the moment, Mackenzie said.

University Director of Community Relations Jan Morlock said the next Ambulatory Care Center meeting Nov. 12 will be the last of several sit-downs with area residents, Prospect Park and the Stadium Village Commercial Association.

SVCA member Chris Ferguson said the business district has no serious problems with the project, and Prospect Park should count itself lucky for even getting a heads-up about the project.

“They held those meetings as a courtesy,” he said.

Ferguson said he, too, has seen past evidence that the University considered using eminent domain.

“The University has a lot more authority than other institutions,” he said. “If the community was against [the project], I don’t think they would stop them from doing it.”

PPERIA board member Dick Gilyard said the communication with the University on this project has been OK, but the University isn’t as open about its plans as other developers are.

“It’s difficult to live next to a large-scale business, because it’s hard to always sort out what’s going on,” MacKenzie said.

Gilyard said overall, the University’s alteration of the neighborhood is inevitable.

“That area is going to change a lot over the next 25 years,” he said. “Although the University says it has no plans, ultimately we know the University never gets smaller.”

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