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KTTC building in the running for UMR campus

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By Matt Russell

mrussell@postbulletin.com

In many ways, building the University of Minnesota Rochester’s downtown campus near the Rochester Area Family Y makes sense.

The university and the Y have an agreement for students to use Y facilities, the campus would be near Soldiers Memorial Field, and officials consider the area ripe for redevelopment. Most importantly, the campus would be near Mayo Clinic’s downtown campus, one of the biggest goals for university officials.

All these factors add interest to the city’s imminent purchase of the former KTTC-TV studio building at 601 First Ave. S.W., less than a block from the Y.

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Could UMR redevelop the site as part of the downtown campus it plans to build over the next 20 years?

"It’s a possibility," said Doug Knott, the city’s downtown development director. "There are some things that make that a reasonably good location."

On Monday, the city council voted to enter into a $650,000 purchase agreement with KTTC for the building, which the station left in 2001; it has been vacant since.

In a memo to council members, Knott said the city’s intention is to hold the KTTC property either for the UMR campus or other downtown development.

UMR officials aren’t commenting publicly on possible campus locations, but they have said the land should be pinpointed within a year. A consultant identified five potential sites that university officials are considering, said Jay Hesley, UMR’s assistant vice chancellor for institutional advancement.

UMR’s downtown campus master plan calls for a four- to five-block core campus with generous open space and buildings that are four to eight stories tall.

Hesley wouldn’t comment on the KTTC property but confirmed that it’s close enough to the downtown Mayo Clinic campus to fit UMR’s criteria for campus siting.

The city’s purchase of the 69-year-old KTTC building is contingent on an environmental review to ensure there’s no costly cleanup needed beyond expected asbestos removal, Knott said. The city and KTTC are also negotiating relocation of the station’s skycam, possibly to a water tower or the Silver Lake power plant, he said.

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The sale could be finalized in two to four weeks, Knott said. Demolition of the deteriorating two-story building could happen immediately or this winter if it looks like contractor prices will be lower then, Knott said.

The city has acquired two other buildings near the KTTC building — a small brick structure it recently demolished at 609 First Ave. S.W., and the former Minnesota Energy building half a block to the north.

"Our feeling is that if it works for the U, great, but if not, these are properties that as the economy begins to turn around should be highly desirable sites for redevelopment," Knott said.

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