Metropolitan State University’s GROW-IT Center is nearly a reality. The site of what will be the completed GROW-IT Center is a former Minnesota Department of Agriculture research facility that was shuttered in 2008, located at 445 Maria Ave. on the university’s Saint Paul campus. Meetings to determine possibilities for the site began in fall 2014. Since then, over 80 people have developed a shared vision for the building, requiring a lot of conversations making sure everyone is on the same page. Many relationships have been cultivated in the years up to completion. The renovation project has raised $1,120,000 so far.
Both the university and the community will use the GROW-IT Center to generate best practices in sustainable urban agriculture, healthy food production and access, and ecological preservation. As a year-round learning hub for scientists, students of all ages and community practitioners to grow healthy communities, the GROW-IT Center is meant to inspire and prepare the next generation to address these important issues.
“The GROW-IT Center is a very small facility, but its purposes are multi-faceted and relevant to priorities in the community and the university,” ICES Community Engagement Coordinator Jodi Bantley, a member of the GROW-IT Center planning team, says. The building’s on-campus location increases educational opportunities for Metropolitan State students, and access to food in the Dayton’s Bluff community is a chief concern for the GROW-IT Center's planning team. “Along with the efforts of our whole planning team, that is why fundraising—albeit slow—has been a success.”
Besides contributions from Metropolitan State, funding for the GROW-IT Center’s renovation has come from many sources. With initial contributions from the Hardenbergh Family Foundation, CHS Foundation, F.R. Bigelow Foundation, The St. Paul Foundation, and the City of Saint Paul STAR Fund, the GROW-IT Center planning team raised nearly half the total planned renovation cost by early 2017.
The planning team also managed to secure a significant government grant from the Department of Agriculture in 2017. Representative Sheldon Johnson and Senator Foung Hawj, state legislators representing Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, introduced a bill seeking funds to renovate the shuttered building into the GROW-IT Center. Jodi Bantley testified before the House Agriculture Finance Committee, and the planning team provided information to all legislators on the Minnesota House and Senate finance committees. At the end of negotiations, after a conference committee hearing featuring Metropolitan State President Ginny Arthur, Rep. Johnson and several Urban Roots members, $400,000 was awarded.
Subsequent commitments from Metropolitan State, the Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grant and McNeely Foundation, with additional support from F.R. Bigelow Foundation and the St. Paul Foundation, nearly brought the GROW-IT Center planning team to the project’s estimated cost. The exact cost won’t be known until August, so the planning team is still reaching out for funds.
Bantley says the GROW-IT Center is on track to be substantially completed before the 2019 growing season begins. “At this stage, there are still moving parts, but the GROW-IT Center is a project that is grounded in reality and full of possibilities for the future.”