The University of Saint Thomas is no longer considering a hockey arena as part of its plans for building a sports complex at the Highland Bridge development on the site of Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant. However, new softball and baseball fields are still on the table, according to an email sent by university officials to students and staff on July 6.

The email stated that “the university has been exploring multiple off-campus sites in Saint Paul to support its hockey, baseball and softball programs” following a successful first year competing at the Division I level. However, after further assessment, it has been determined the “Highland Bridge site is no longer a viable option for a future hockey facility, primarily due to financial considerations.”

UST sports complex
The diagram shows the 23-acre parcel where the University of Saint Thomas is hoping to construct a new sports complex.

The university stated on July 6 that it has determined the “Highland Bridge site is no longer a viable option for a future hockey facility, primarily due to financial considerations.”

The university’s email goes on to say it is continuing to evaluate other sites for a hockey arena and will share that information as its plans develop.

UST has been working with Highland Bridge master developer Ryan Companies to build a sports complex on a 23-acre site located on and adjacent to the Canadian Pacific Railway yard at the southeast corner of the former Ford site. The plans had called for a hockey arena with a second sheet of ice for practices, baseball and softball fields, an indoor practice facility and a parking ramp.

It is unknown where the university would build a 4,500-seat hockey arena. The Tommies currently play at Saint Thomas Academy’s ice arena in Mendota Heights.

Neighborhood reaction to the sports complex has been mixed. Some people have said they would welcome facilities that could be shared with youth and high school teams. Matt Anfang, a Highland Park resident and parent of three daughters who have played hockey, said that two additional sheets of ice could ease the crunch on existing arenas.

 

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“As a hockey parent, I was 100 percent behind the idea,” he said. According to him, tight scheduling at existing rinks means some practices and games need to be held early in the morning or late at night. “Everyone is scrambling for premium ice time,” he said.

Some neighbors oppose the sports complex, saying it would displace affordable housing, and take valuable land off of the property tax rolls. Several people also want to block the softball and baseball fields. A letter-writing campaign has focused on pollution on the site from decades of railroad and motor vehicle manufacturing uses.

Ward 3 City Council member Chris Tolbert said he has heard from many people both for and against the sports complex, with or without the hockey arena.

Maureen Michalski, Ryan vice president for development, said in a statement that Ryan Companies will be working with UST on a revised site plan to accommodate baseball, softball and associated facilities at Highland Bridge in the next month.

“We anticipate that after we have an updated proposal we will advance conversations with the city and community, including any official submittals,” Michalski stated. “We will pause the alternative urban areawide review (AUAR) until such time as we have updated programming, and will remove the master plan amendment application previously submitted from the city review process. We plan on sharing dates and timing as we get further into planning and better understand a revised process.”

The Saint Paul Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and City Council are expected to review the revised master plan, development agreement, potential relocation of Mica Park and related issues throughout 2022. Dropping the hockey arena means changing the requests to the city and to the AUAR, which is a detailed study of environmental impacts that a major project can have.

The Planning Commission’s public hearing regarding master plan amendments for the sports complex, originally  scheduled for August 5, was canceled after the university withdrew its application.

The Highland District Council’s Community Development Committee was expected to discuss the next steps in the review process during its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 19, at the Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy.

A neighborhood meeting on the issue, originally planned for July 26 at Lumen Christi Catholic Community, 2055 Bohland Ave., has been rescheduled to 6 p.m. Monday, August 22, at that location.

— Jane McClure

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