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University of Minnesota to buy Broadway property as part of future campus plans

UMR's long-term plans for building a downtown campus seem to be moving forward again with the confirmation that the university is buying the former Running Room building.

Running room.jpg
The Running Room store, which had sold shoes and running gear at 711 S. Broadway since 2005, closed the doors to its Rochester location for good on Saturday.
Jeff Kiger / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — The University of Minnesota Rochester hopes to close on the purchase of the former Running Room building along Broadway in May as part of its “master plan” to eventually develop a downtown campus in the First Avenue Southwest area.

UMR confirmed this week that it is moving forward to buy the 2,000-square-foot building at 711 S. Broadway that is locally owned by Stan Maass.

Maass did not respond to an email asking about the situation. Olmsted County estimated the total market value of the 38-year-old building and land at $480,900 for 2021-2022.

“The University of Minnesota considers property in the context of master planning. Acquiring the property at 711 S. Broadway fits within a long-term plan for the University's development and presence in Rochester's Education and Recreation district,” wrote UMR Director of Communication and Marketing Molly Olson in response to questions about the property.

That building housed the Running Room store for almost 16 years, until it closed in January 2021 . It has been empty since then.

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If this sale closes as expected, it will be the latest in a long string of acquisitions made by UMR dating back to the purchase of the China Dynasty restaurant at 701 S. Broadway in 2009.

At least nine buildings, including a former Burger King/Rico Mex restaurant , the former home of KTTC-TV, the Fourth Street Boxing Gym, the former Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1215, Benny's R-Tic drive-in and others in the neighborhood have been purchased and demolished as the university moved ahead with the original plan to create a 10-acre college campus there.

UMR used $14 million from the city of Rochester’s local-option sales tax money that was earmarked for establishing a downtown campus.

Olson clarified that no sales tax dollars are being used in UMR’s purchase of the Running Room.

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“Students, staff and faculty are grateful to the city of Rochester for the city sales tax dollars that have been invested to support UMR’s continuing growth. This property will be purchased with university funds,” she wrote.

The Running Room property is one of three remaining buildings in the area between Broadway and First Avenue that UMR has not purchased in the past 13 years.

The other two buildings are Scharf Auto Supply / NAPA Auto Parts at 620 First Ave. SW and the Point of View condominiums at 728 First Ave. SW.

Another prominent piece to the UMR campus puzzle is the recently closed Rochester Area Family YMCA complex at 709 First Ave SW. UMR and the "Y" were working together toward creating the campus, until the YMCA pulled out of the agreement in 2020 due to the pandemic.

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That change caused UMR Chancellor Lori Carrell to say a proposed building involving the YMCA no longer made sense . However, university officials say that did not make the overall campus plan “inactive.”

In a surprise move, the Twin Cities-based YMCA of the North closed the Rochester Y facility in January. There has been no word on what the plans are for the complex.

Olson says UMR has no plans to purchase the YMCA complex.

“The recent closure of the Y facility will be a factor as we revisit the Master Plan. UMR continues our partnership with the Y as we seek creative strategies to support our students’ needs and the continued growth of our campus community,” she wrote.

Drone Soldiers Field
The YMCA and downtown Rochester from Soldier’s Field Park in Rochester on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

Many things have changed over the years as the city, Destination Medical Center and university have tried to map out a Rochester UMR campus. A prime swath of Broadway has been cleared of buildings for more than 10 years as campus designs have been drawn and redrawn.

However, Carrell said the need that has driven all of the planning is still there.

“The long-term vision remains, though we have no specific plans to announce at this time. The Rochester campus of the University of Minnesota has grown by 13% during the pandemic, with nearly 1,000 students enrolled in fall 2021,” Carrell wrote.

“To accommodate the substantive growth, UMR’s facilities have expanded through long-term leases to date, now including space at 318 Commons, One Discovery Square, USquare at the Galleria, and Residences at Discovery Square. We are currently in need of additional student housing and classrooms so we can continue our enrollment growth to meet current critical talent demands in Minnesota’s health care industry.”

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Jeff Kiger tracks business action in Rochester and southeastern Minnesota every day in "Heard on the Street." Send tips to jkiger@postbulletin.com or via Twitter to @whereskiger . You can call him at 507-285-7798.

Jeff Kiger writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street," in addition to writing articles about local businesses, Mayo Clinic, IBM, Hormel Foods, Crenlo and others. He has worked in Rochester for the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Jeff at 507-285-7798 or jkiger@postbulletin.com.
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