Editor’s note: The Planning Commission’s public hearing scheduled for August 5 was canceled after the university announced it was dropping its plan to include a hockey arena in the sports complex.
 

The University of Saint Thomas’ quest to build a sports complex in a corner of the former Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Highland Park will be the subject of a public hearing before the Saint Paul Planning Commission at 8:30 a.m. Friday, August 5. The commission will be reviewing several amendments to the city’s master plan for the Ford site that would allow the sports complex to be located there.

The commission released the amendments for public comment in June. Many questions remain about what the amendments would mean for the Highland Bridge development. Some commissioners said they are already hearing from citizens who oppose the UST project. A neighborhood meeting on the sports complex will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 26, at Lumen Christi Catholic Church, 2055 Bohland Ave.

The Planning Commission’s Comprehensive and Neighborhood Planning Committee has raised several issues, according to senior city planner Mike Richardson. Among the concerns were the fate of the 110 units of affordable housing that had been planned for that portion of the Ford site, the impact UST’s project would have on property tax revenue and job creation, and the sports complex’s consistency with the vision for Highland Bridge.

 

ust fields
The diagram above shows the 23-acre parcel where the University of Saint Thomas is hoping to construct a new athletic complex in keeping with its status as an NCAA Division I sports school. The diagram below shows the possible location of UST’s new hockey arena (1), softball and baseball stadiums (6 and 8), parking ramp (10) and practice facility (7).

UST and Ford site master developer Ryan Companies reviewed plans for the sports complex with the Highland District Council Community Development Committee on June 21. UST vice president Mark Vangsgard explained how the project is part of the university’s effort to upgrade its athletic facilities to coincide with its recent move from Division III to Division I in the NCAA.

Ryan Companies owns the 122-acre Highland Bridge site and has the 13-acre Canadian Pacific rail yard property under contract. UST would build the sports complex on 23 acres on and adjacent to the rail yard in the southeast corner of Highland Bridge. Plans call for a hockey arena, a second ice sheet for practice, small baseball and softball stadiums, an indoor practice facility and a parking ramp.

The need to amend Ford site master plan

While those land uses are allowed under the Ford Site Master Plan, the plan must be amended in the following areas:

 

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  • A reduction in the density of the development, with the sports facilities replacing the planned housing and offices.
  • An adjustment to the mix of land uses provided by the underlying zoning.
  • An adjustment to the parks and open space master plan by relocating the city’s proposed 1.5-acre Mica Park and adding new open space due to parkland dedication requirements.
  • An increase in the maximum building width for structures that are set back from the right-of-way.
  • An exclusion to the maximum setback for civic and institutional buildings.
  • Changes to bike, pedestrian and transit connectivity through the Highland Bridge site.

The impact of amendments questioned

Planning Commission chair Luis Rangel Morales, one of two commissioners who were involved in the drafting of the Ford site master plan, said there was a general sense of frustration among members of the Comprehensive and Neighborhood Planning Committee. They want to more fully understand the impact of the proposed amendments to the master plan, Morales said. “It took 10 years—over 10 years—for the city to come up with a master plan for the Ford site,” he said. “And this is a huge change to the plan.”

The city is currently conducting a review of the environmental impact of the master plan amendments. It is also negotiating a change to the development agreement for Highland Bridge to ensure that enough tax increment financing is generated by the development to cover infrastructure and other associated costs.

Morales questioned the tight timeline for approving the amendments. The Planning Commission is being asked to make a recommendation to the City Council on the sport complex by September. The city has 60 days to act on master plan amendments under state law, according to Saint Paul planning director Luis Pereira. However, that deadline can be extended for another 60 days.

City staff are reviewing the redevelopment agreement. Any changes will have to be approved by the Saint Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority and City Council. The relocation of Mica Park will be reviewed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and City Council. Pereira said the parallel processes should answer many of the questions the planning commissioners have raised.

— Jane McClure

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