The University of Minnesota Rochester started cleaning up its land on South Broadway this week as an early step toward building a new campus.
Crews are removing asphalt, concrete and top soil on the former sites of China Dynasty and Rico Mex buildings at 701 S. Broadway and 617 S. Broadway. UMR bought the properties in 2009 and 2010 for a combined cost of $2.2 million. It demolished in the buildings in 2011.
"We always we knew at some point in time we'd have to do some environmental remediation," said Jay Hesley, UMR's assistant vice chancellor for institutional advancement.
The plan is to remove a layer of possibly contaminated top soil, replacing it and landscaping the area with grass, trees and shrubs to provide natural "passive remediation." Basically, that will let the soil "breathe."
However, UMR wants to make it clear that this will not be a park, though the public will have access to certain areas.
"This is a temporary action for holding and maintaining the property in the long run," he said "The land will eventually be redeveloped. It will become an eventual building site for the campus.".
The timing for that eventual campus construction is unknown at this point, according to UMR.
The master plan is to build its long-proposed 10.5-acre campus in the area near Soldiers Memorial Field. The university, which opened in 2011, is now based on the third and fourth floors of the University Square mall in downtown Rochester as well as in he nearby 318 Commons building. The school is already getting close to outgrowing those spaces, officials say.
In recent years, UMR has acquired and demolished six buildings in the area as it moved toward the campus plan.
In 2014, it wrapped up a long-planned purchase of 601 First Ave. SW., 609 First Ave. S.W. and 114 Sixth St. S.W. from the City of Rochester. That included the former KTTC facility, a small office building and a small place last used as a halal meat market. UMR paid $1.32 million for the properties.
The now empty ex-KTTC site is slated to be the first phase of the eventual campus project. Hesley expects the Broadway properties currently being cleaned up will be the site of the second phase of the campus.
While work on the campus master plan "depends on our needs and requirements," it could start within four or five years, he said.
However, it might not be UMR's needs that eventually trigger the start of campus construction. Hesley said the university is looking at this as "a community campus" that might involve private partners to help develop it. UMR used a public/private model for 318 Commons, which houses most of the students, many classrooms and faculty offices. That tower was built by Rochester developers Hal Henderson and Grant Michelitz. They lease the majority of it to UMR.
"Many other organizations are going to have the opportunity to participate in the campus to develop a real community asset," he said. "They might drive demand for building sites ahead of UMR's needs."