Minnesota State college system could leave downtown St. Paul office in 2024

Jan. 26—The Minnesota State college and university system expects to vacate much of its downtown St. Paul headquarters in 2024 after reassessing its office space needs in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved a two-year lease extension at Wells Fargo Place, St. Paul's tallest building. With a consultant's help, the system will take that time to find a long-term home for its 330 employees, which could include work-from-home and hybrid or flexible offices.

"I will be very surprised if we do not very significantly reduce our footprint at the Wells Fargo building," Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said.

Minnesota State, which oversees 30 public colleges and seven universities, has leased several floors at Wells Fargo Place — 30 E. Seventh St. — since 1998, soon after the system was created. It now occupies five floors and 89,000 square feet, paying as much as $2.9 million a year.

Leaders in 2018 began exploring a move that was to take place as soon as this year, but planning was put on hold when the pandemic struck.

Now, with many employees working from home, the system sees new reasons to downsize.

"Things are changing. We got to understand what those are," said Brian Yolitz, associated vice chancellor for facilities. "It's important we do a disciplined and an intentional assessment before we jump into some of these big decisions."

Yolitz said they'll look into other office buildings in the metro area, as well as empty space on college and university campuses.

Enrollment across the system has declined for 10 straight years, and some of the classes that moved online during the pandemic figure to keep that format permanently.

Malhotra said the system recently terminated an office lease for technology workers near St. Cloud and moved them to St. Cloud Technical and Community College, which had excess capacity.

"Some of the rethinking of this space has already started," he said.

Trustee Jerry Janezich said that besides cost savings, the system must consider the culture it's trying to build as it looks for a new home. He said the colleges and universities today want autonomy from the system, but that should become less important in time.

"We've got to break some of those barriers, and we're not doing it yet," he said.