Student Unions & Activities : University of Minnesota

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Renovation Background

The 1999-2003 Coffman renovation was part of the University of Minnesota’s Riverbend Commons Revitalization project (outlined below). The aim of the project, which amounted to a $153 million dollar investment, was to enhance and restore the original architectural plan for the Northrop Mall that visually connected the campus to the Mississippi River. Other components of the Riverbend Commons project included:

  • A new 1,900-car parking garage behind Coffman, with 400 short-term spaces; Opened January 2002.
  • A new 400+-bed apartment-style residence hall behind Coffman; Opened Fall 2002.
  • A new plaza area, similar to Northrop Mall, with a cascading grassy landscape perfect for student use and programming; Opened Fall 2002.

Goals of the Coffman Renovation

  • Add more student-centered services, such as a computer lab; walk-up internet kiosk stations; a central 46,000 square-foot bookstore complete with a Starbucks® coffee shop; both social and quiet lounges and study space; a 400-seat, multi-use theater; a food court with a wide variety of choice and national brands; expanded student organization office space; campus security escort station; in addition to a post office, discount tickets and copy center.
  • Re-establish Coffman as the center of student life and activities on campus.
  • Make Coffman more user-friendly, brighter, comfortable, and student-oriented, while returning it to its rich, 1940s charm.
  • Upgrade and air condition the aging building structures and achieve ADA and code compliance.

Building History

  • Coffman Union was built in the late 1930s at a cost of $2 million, funded primarily by student fees and a public works administration grant. The building opened in fall 1940.
  • The building was initially designed to accommodate a student body of 14,000.
  • Coffman was remodeled during the mid-70s to accommodate 42,000 students.
  • Air conditioning was pulled out of the 1970s project due to lack of student fee funding.
  • In 1999, the Student Services Fees Committee approved $37.5 million in student fees and $7.5 million in post-renovation Coffman revenues to fund the renovation.

Read complete Coffman Memorial Union history.

Need for Renovation

The plans for Coffman’s most recent major renovation began more than a decade ago with a push from students on Coffman’s Board of Governors to respond to costly repairs on aging building systems. Five years later, student research indicated that Coffman was not effectively serving the campus community. The fall 1998 survey specifically indicated that Coffman was not providing 7 of the top 10 services students wanted in their union, such as more short term parking, a bookstore, air conditioning, computer lab, more quiet lounge space, food choices with national and local brands, and a first-run movie theater, all of which is now provided by the renovated Coffman. In addition, Coffman’s building structures needed upgrading to achieve code and ADA compliance. The renovated Coffman now provides the types of services students today and in the future need to support their college education.


March 1999
Student Service Fee Decision
April - November 1999
Program and Building Design
November 1999
Coffman Closed/Tenants Relocated
November 1999 - July 2000
Asbestos Abatement and Interior Demolition
April 2000
Sent Request for Proposal (RFP) for Design/Bid/Build Contractor
May 2000
No bids received - deadline extended
July 2000
Bids due
September 2000
Reject bids - all bids came in over budget
October - November 2000
Moved project into Design/Build method
November 2000
Send out revised FRP
December 2000
Design/Build bids due
January 2001
Hired Ryan Companies
January - May 2001
Refined Project Scope
May 2001
Regents approve redesign and new budget estimate
June 2001
Construction began
December 2002
Tenants start moving in
January 21, 2003
Open to the public
Spring Semester 2003
Reopening Celebration