University-area reps begin talks on Gophers stadium details

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With the Gophers football stadium finally approved, members of the University of Minnesota’s Stadium Area Advisory Group (SAAG) met Monday to begin ironing out the details. Most agree it will not be a simple process.

SAAG is considering monthly meetings with two working groups: one to decide how to manage income from a $1.5 million endowment fund starting July 1, 2007, and the other preparing to report to the governor and the legislature on the impact of the university on the neighborhoods by a January 15, 2007 deadline .

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on May 24 signed the bill for the state portion of the $248 million University of Minnesota TCF Bank Stadium football stadium.

The 68.4-acre site for the 50,000-seat outdoor stadium currently holds the Huron Boulevard parking lots, near Mariucci and Williams arenas. The team has played downtown at the Metrodome since the closing of Memorial Stadium in 1981.

The SAAG and its membership are to be reconstituted in three annual terms. Membership includes six neighborhood organizations, four business associations, five local governments, and the State Fair.

“We have not designed anything yet,” Tom DeAngelo, HOK Sports/Architectural Alliance, project architect, told the group. DeAngelo noted that the preliminary stadium drawing already publicized is considered a “pre-design.”

“We want to listen, about what the U and the neighborhoods have on their minds,” DeAngelo told the group. He said his design goal is to create a collegiate football experience on campus. “We’re starting fresh,” he said, and he promised to bring ideas to the group.

Sitework starts
Brian Swanson, university stadium project coordinator, said preliminary work this summer will involve Sixth Street, 23rd Street to University Avenue and reconfiguration of “Block 12” near the Academic Health Center as a parking lot. Swanson said three university buildings on University Avenue SE, including the former University Press building, are scheduled to be demolished in September.

Next winter, creosote under the Huron Boulevard parking complex will be removed.

In the spring, work will begin on Oak Street and University Avenue and the creation of new parking lots, Swanson said. Larry Peszek, representing Hines Interests, the stadium project manager, said the goal is to keep streets open, and to close them only as needed. Swanson also noted that the Con-Agra grain elevators northeast of the stadium site will be demolished, although the site is not part of the stadium project. Construction on the stadium itself is expected to start in July 2007.

Jan Morlock, director in the Office of University Relations, noted that the stadium group meetings started four years ago, when the university and the Minnesota Vikings were contemplating a joint stadium on campus.

Cam Gordon, Ward 2 city councilmember, stressed that a student representative should be appointed to SAAG. Morlock agreed. Gordon also said he’d encourage the Cedar/Riverside community organizations to send representatives.

Mitigation Fund
Morlock, who chaired the SAAG meeting, asked for discussion on how to implement the mitigation fund. At the April meeting, a three-member subcommittee was formed. The volunteers were Steve Banks, Prospect Park; Justin Eibenholzl, Southeast Como; and Ron Lischeid, University District Improvement Association. Melissa Bean, Marcy-Holmes; and Jim Rosvold, Stadium Village Commercial Association, volunteered at the June meeting.

When a silence followed, Morlock asked, “What does silence mean?” A voice said, “It means a lot of work!”

Swanson said costs for potential stadium site preparation and construction problems, such as truck routing, dust or dirt on streets, are covered in the project budget. A Hotline to report problems will be set up, he said. In the meantime, comments should be emailed to Swanson at bswanson@umn.edu. O’Brien acknowledged, “These are issues we need to deal with right away.”

Impact report
Morlock said the SAAG, the city, and the university are responsible for preparing the report on the university’s impact, as the legislation states, on “the surrounding community and the relationship of the community to the university.” It is due to the governor and legislature by Jan. 15. The date is tied to the funding year for the legislature, it was noted.

Gordon said the topic for the report on the university’s impact is potentially “an enormous issue.” O’Brien said SAAG should design a process for operating the mitigation fund, and get back to Sen. Larry Pogemiller, author of the state stadium funding bill.

Banks and Diane Hofstede, Ward 3 councilmember, said the timeframe is short. O’Brien noted that the working group will need only to draft a plan, not implement it. Also volunteering were Hofstede; Gordon; Florence Littman of Prospect Park; and Joan Menken of Como. Other members include a representative from the city coordinator’s office and Morlock, University Relations.

The 32 people attending also included Falcon Heights Mayor Susan Gehrz, St. Paul Deputy Mayor Nancy Homans, and a representative from the Minnesota State Fair.

The university stadium website is “here”:http://www1.umn.edu/stadium/.

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