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The University of Minnesota is searching for donors who can provide $10.5 million to cover the costs of its presidential mansion, saying the historic home has a beloved place in U history but public money could be better spent on other causes.

"This really strikes, I think, the balance of keeping a property that has so much value, not just financially but a lot of different connections to the university, and really thinking about the budget, how to make it work," Regent Bo Thao-Urabe said during a meeting Wednesday.

Overlooking the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Eastcliff has served as the backdrop for weddings, graduations, protests and a visit from the Dalai Lama. It currently serves as a temporary home for Gov. Tim Walz and his family while their state-owned mansion undergoes renovations.

But the number of events held at Eastcliff decreased during the coronavirus pandemic, prompting some U leaders to question whether it was time to sell the building, which is valued at about $2.6 million. Instead, a task force of U employees and a leader for the University of Minnesota Foundation recommended the U seek donations to cover the cost of renovations and Eastcliff operations. On Wednesday, regents seemed to agree; they'll vote at a future meeting on whether to move ahead with the fundraising drive.

The task force anticipates the U Foundation will need a $4.5 million endowment to cover $200,000 in operating expenses each year, and $6 million to cover repairs, security and other updates needed in the next decade. The U will continue to contribute about $100,000 each year.

The mansion was constructed in the early 1920s for lumber magnate Edward Brooks. He and his wife, Markell, entertained a number of famous guests there, including Helen Keller, Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable, according to records kept by the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1958, four years after Edward Brooks died, the family donated the mansion to the University of Minnesota to serve as a new home for its president. The university's previous presidential home, Pillsbury House, had been constructed in 1877 and was by then in need of renovation.

A feasibility study found "that sufficient private funds can be raised over five years to transition Eastcliff away from University operating and capital support," according to a task force report. It left open the possibility that regents could reconsider the building's fate, if donations don't come through.

The state's lease for Eastcliff runs through September but includes options to extend through the end of the year. Curtis Yoakum, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Administration, said the $12.8 million construction project on the governor's mansion is on track to be completed by the end of the year, but officials haven't yet finalized the governor's schedule for moving back.