The University of Saint Thomas’ effort to alter the Ford site master plan to make way for a new sports complex at Highland Bridge begins in earnest on June 21. The Highland District Council (HDC) Community Development Committee will be asked that evening to recommend master plan amendments to allow a hockey arena, baseball and softball fields, a parking ramp and practice facilities to be constructed on the southeast corner of the former Ford Motor Company plant in Highland Park.
The full HDC will vote on the amendments in July. A neighborhood meeting to review the master plan amendments will be held in late July or August, once they have been reviewed and released for public comment by the Saint Paul Planning Commission.
The master plan amendments are just one of several actions the city must take before the sports complex can be built. HDC board president Kevin Vargas urged Highland residents and business people to get involved.
Highland Bridge master developer Ryan Companies is working with University of Saint Thomas (UST) officials to obtain the needed city approvals. Ryan and UST expect to appear before the HDC Community Development Committee monthly through September as they work to secure the necessary city approvals.
Saint Paul City Council member Chris Tolbert of Ward 3…called the possibilities of a sports complex at Highland Bridge “intriguing” and is interested in the prospect of shared community use.
Saint Paul City Council member Chris Tolbert of Ward 3 also encouraged community members to participate in the process and make their wishes known. While he has not taken a stance on any proposed changes, Tolbert said, he called the possibilities of a sports complex at Highland Bridge “intriguing” and is interested in the prospect of shared community use. “The University of Saint Thomas is a valued neighbor and a sports complex could add a lot of value to the site,” he said.
Tolbert added that he does not want to see any of the planned housing lost on the Ford site. “One of the biggest attributes of the master plan is that it calls for almost 4,000 housing units, which are badly needed,” he said.
The Ford site master plan was adopted in 2017, before Ford Motor Company chose Ryan Companies as the master developer of Highland Bridge. The master plan was amended in 2019, after Ryan was chosen.
Amending master plan is months-long process.
“When amendments are made to a master plan, it involves a months-long process that includes several applications, public hearings and council actions,” said Maureen Michalski, Ryan’s vice president for real estate development. “The recently submitted amendments for the University of Saint Thomas athletic complex was the first step in the process, and all applications will need to be approved before the athletic complex can advance.”
The new sports facilities would displace the offices, other commercial uses, city park and 110 affordable housing units that have been eyed for that area of Highland Bridge. The park and affordable housing would be located elsewhere on the 122-acre Highland Bridge site, but the commercial uses would be lost. The changes would also affect the alignment of pedestrian and bike trails and other site features.
While the underlying zoning allows new sports facilities, several technical changes to the master plan are needed. Minor changes can be made by city staff, but substantive changes need Planning Commission and City Council approval. These changes range from allowing field fencing and light posts to revising minimum density requirements, transportation plans and building design.
UST issued the following statement: “From our standpoint, we are still in the early stages of what we expect to be a long process. We are just beginning to work with the city on various land use approvals as we go through the many steps to determine if the Highland Bridge site is the best fit, and we are continuing to explore financing options. The university expects these processes to continue for several months.”
When asked if other sites are being considered for the new athletic facilities, UST stated that while new options continue to be explored, Saint Paul is the preferred location.
— Jane McClure
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