A worldwide footprint

The University system owns land for various uses across the state, nation and world.
Established in 1958 by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, the Landscape Arboretum is the largest public garden in the Upper Midwest. It displays gardens, woods, prairies and plant collections.
November 12, 2013

The University of Minnesota owns a mansion on the shore of Lake Superior, apartments in Birmingham, UK, and forests on a Chippewa reservation.

Across the state, country and world, the University owns more than 28,000 acres of land and receives the financial benefit of about 56,500 acres of land. It engages in more than 1,400 leases and easements.

And each of these properties is bought and used in a unique way.

All of the University’s land is used for specific purposes, from a peat soil bank used to restore wetlands to a parking lot that keeps the Minneapolis campus less congested. Long-term plans for properties include multiple uses for the land over time.

The way the University goes about acquiring these properties is just as varied.

Sometimes the Real Estate Office acquires a property and determines a use later, and sometimes it hunts for land to serve a specific goal in the campus’s master plans. A department may approach the Real Estate Office when in need of a research facility, or property owners may contact the office about land they’re looking to sell that might be useful to the University.

Because the Real Estate Office doesn’t have a comprehensive land budget, its purchases are made with a combination of sources. State funding, grants, donations, money from academic departments, internal University loans and even land the University sells fund future acquisitions.

The office acts as a gatekeeper for University land. It handles transactions for thousands of small chunks of land that collectively form multimillion-dollar spans of property.

The following pages provide a closer look at land ownership and leasing at the University.

Birmingham, United Kingdom, flats

The University of Minnesota-Duluth has had an academic program in the United Kingdom since 1980. Beginning in 1985, the University acquired three flats in Selly Park near the University of Birmingham to house the director of the Study in England Programme and visiting Duluth faculty members.

The apartments were purchased under a leasehold agreement for 125 years — the English equivalent of buying a condominium, Director of Real Estate Susan Carlson Weinberg said.

When the Study in England Programme recently moved to the University of Worcester, the apartments were put on the market. One of them has been sold, and a potential buyer has been identified for another, Weinberg said.

In dealing with the Birmingham property, Weinberg said, the Real Estate Office learned a lot about the different ways real estate is handled overseas.

“It’s kind of an unusual concept,” she said.

The University is involved in more than 1,400 leases and easements in the U.S. and abroad, either as landlord or tenant.

Leasing land rather than owning it is attractive to the University because it gives short-term access to land that can be paid for with annual research grants, Director of Real Estate Susan Carlson Weinberg said.

It’s also a smarter way to secure land internationally, she said.

Beijing, China

The University’s Beijing recruiting office was established in 2009 to strengthen the University’s research partnerships and connect with its student and alumni population in China.

The University leases an apartment unit in China’s capital city and uses it for visiting faculty members, prospective students and resident staff in conjunction with the University’s China Center in Minnesota.

“We can’t always just pick up the phone and call them,” said Joan Brzezinski, the center’s executive director.

Chinese communication revolves more around phone conversations than emails, Brzezinski said, so the center helps the University connect with its colleagues abroad during the Chinese workday, which is 13 hours ahead of Minnesota’s.

“You can do a lot of stuff online,” she said, “but you don’t know who the people behind the websites and the information are.”

The office also connects with international students in person before they travel halfway around the world to the University, she said.

“It’s a big decision to go overseas and study in a foreign county,” Brzezinski said, “and having that office allows us to really help those students and their parents adjust.”

Worcester, United Kingdom

The University leases office, classroom and meeting space at the University of Worcester’s St John’s campus for the Duluth campus’ Study in England Programme. It also leases on-campus student accommodations and faculty housing off campus.

The quirks of University leases

University leases tend to get very specific.

The University leases air rights to a steam line on the underside of the No. 9 Bridge near campus that takes steam from the campus’ heating plant across the Mississippi River. It also leases underground land from the City of Minneapolis for telecommunication networking.

Leases include three areas on the state fairgrounds and all of the Crow Wing County fairgrounds in Brainerd, Minn., including the use of buildings, arenas and all grounds.

The University also leases power poles and land from a campground in Duluth, Minn., and pays about $133 per month for a storm sewer line in Crookston, Minn., that it’s leased since 1972.

The University also leases the antenna on the roof of a building on Third Avenue South in Minneapolis for transportation studies.

Tucson, Ariz.

The University’s School of Physics and Astronomy has been conducting research at Mount Lemmon Radar Base Site near Tucson, Ariz., since 1959,  said Bob Gehrz, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics chair and professor.

The lease agreement between the University of Arizona and the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents includes a 60-inch infrared telescope the department uses to observe nova explosions and other events, Gehrz said.

Because the telescope is on a dry mountain site, the department can make observations almost all year long, he said.

The department will observe a bright comet at the site this fall, he said.

Funding two people to go down to the site as objects come into view is expensive, Gehrz said, but having access to the telescope helps the department get research funding.

“We can propose it as an asset when we write our proposals to NASA,” he said.

Jefferson, Mo.

The University leases an office at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., for the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

The office houses one employee who reaches out to nearby farmers and educators to spread awareness about sustainable agriculture.

Joan Benjamin, the program’s associate regional coordinator, uses the office to connect with socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, helping them apply for program grants to fund sustainable farming ventures.

Many of the farmers she works with have never written grants, she said, but have great insights into sustainable farming.

Face-to-face communication made possible by having an office in the region helps the program bring farmers’ ideas to fruition, from new labor structures to automatic ladders for apple-picking, Benjamin said.

“To be able to work with people and see them carry out their own ideas is pretty amazing,” she said.

St. Paul Campus and Agricultural Experiment Station

Younger than the Minneapolis campus by 28 years, the oldest University tract of land in St. Paul dates to 1882.

Located about three miles from the East Bank, the St. Paul campus is home to the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and part of the College of Design.

The Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station funds about 400 research projects each year. Its researchers explore ways to improve the state’s agricultural products, human nutrition and environmental quality.

Minneapolis campus

The first tract of land at the University’s Minneapolis campus was purchased for $6,000 on Oct. 21, 1854, from Paul George and Joshua Taylor.

The 25 acres encompassed the Knoll area.

Today, the Minneapolis campus’s East and West banks total nearly 400 acres.

UMore Park

The University purchased this property from the federal government in 1947-48. The land, previously Gopher Ordnance Works, had been used for two smokeless gunpowder manufacturing facilities.

The University’s Board of Regents approved creation of the for-profit UMore Development LLC in 2009 to generate revenue to support areas of the University’s mission.

 “All institutions are becoming much more entrepreneurial about ways of increasing revenues,” said UMore Development LLC Executive Director
Carla Carlson.

About 1,700 acres on the property’s western boundary are dedicated to sand and gravel mining that will be mined 160 acres at a time over 40 years, Carlson said.

The property’s northerly 4,800 acres are dedicated to a decades-long effort to create a self-sustaining community for 25,000 people, meant to be a model for cities of the future.

UMore Park planning and maintenance costs total about $1 million annually.

Vermillion Highlands

In 2006, the University transferred more than 2,800 acres from UMore Park to the state to generate revenue for the construction of TCF Bank Stadium.

The land is now called Vermillion Highlands: a Research, Recreation and Wildlife Management Area. Unlike UMore Park, it won’t be developed.

The state is gradually paying the University for Vermillion Highlands, and after 25 years, ownership will be transferred to the state. The University will still have usage rights, UMore Development LLC Executive Director Carla Carlson said.

O’Brien Observatory

To observe stars and special astrophysical events like novae, the University uses the infrared telescope in O’Brien Observatory. The observatory, which opened in 1968, is located about 45 minutes east of Minneapolis.

Infrared telescopes need to be off-campus because they require dark sky and no heat interference from other sources, said Bob Gehrz, who chairs the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics and works with students on projects at the observatory.

The observatory is a great resource, Gehrz said, but sometimes isn’t used for months. There are no full-time personnel and it isn’t open to the public, he said.

Physics and astrophysics senior Devin Dykhoff spent the summer going to the observatory to collect data and observe the nova that was visible in August.

“It’s a really unique experience,” he said, “being able to firsthand take the data rather than just getting the data from somebody else and analyzing it.”

Minnesota Poultry Testing Lab

This lab in Willmar, Minn., provides required disease testing for the state’s poultry industry.

The lab’s dozen employees work with small and large poultry producers in the state to make sure they comply with the poultry regulations set forth by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, said lab director Dale Lauer, who works for the board.

The lab also tests poultry producers’ samples for Asian influenza, salmonella and other diseases that could potentially be public health issues, he said.

The lab’s location is essential to its work, Lauer said, because it’s near enough to many of the state’s poultry producers to provide easy access for networking and dropping off samples.

It’s also close enough to the Twin Cities to update the St. Paul-based Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory on what’s going on in the “real world,” Lauer said.

“It’s a good way to touch base and to keep in contact with the industry out here,” he said. “I think sometimes if you don’t have these outstate locations and outstate contacts, you lose that.”

Glensheen Mansion (Duluth)

The historic 27,000-square-foot, 39-room Glensheen Mansion educates 60,000 visitors a year on the history of Northern Minnesota and the family who lived in the mansion.

The residence’s first occupants, in the early 1900s, were Chester Congdon and his family. Congdon was a state legislator who helped develop ways to extract iron from taconite, said Dan Hartman, Glensheen’s interim director. Present-day mines in the state’s Iron Range would not be in production without Congdon’s actions, Hartman said.

The Congdon family gave the lakeshore property to the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1968.

After discussions of turning the building into a conference center or student dorm, the University settled on preserving it as a museum and opened it for tours in 1979, Hartman said.

To this day, the mansion is mostly full of its original furnishings and, unlike many history museums, can pay for itself with tour sales, Hartman said.

The University of Minnesota-Duluth also uses the property in a variety of other ways.

The cold climate by Lake Superior provides for vegetable testing. Glensheen donates 2,500 pounds of produce each year to the local food shelf, he said.

The property’s trout stream, which empties into Lake Superior, can be used for outdoor education programs, Hartman said, while the house’s collection of turn-of-the-century paintings is perfect for an art history class.

For history majors, he said, the value of Glensheen is obvious.

“There’s so many ways that we can complement the classroom experience that you have with students,” he said. 

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