UST sports complex
Two site plans for the University of Saint Thomas' sports complex at Highland Bridge were presented on October 18, including this one that would provide surface parking. The other would include a parking ramp.

The University of Saint Thomas announced on October 18 that it is now considering its south campus as the likely site for a new hockey arena. The word came just hours before the university’s latest plans for softball and baseball fields at the southeastern corner of the 122-acre Highland Bridge site were unveiled to the Community Development Committee of the Highland District Council.

A specific south campus location for the hockey arena has not been identified, according to UST vice president and athletic director Phil Esten. The university already has soccer and softball fields at the northwest corner of Cretin and Goodrich avenues. The south campus also has older buildings that could be replaced with a new hockey arena. UST is hoping to select a firm to build the arena by the end of the fall semester.

“After exploring multiple off-campus sites, we can confidently say a new on-campus home for hockey is the best path forward,” Esten said in a statement. “This arena will operate as a multipurpose facility that serves as an asset for our entire campus by offering student life and community engagement opportunities, in addition to serving as a home for our men’s and women’s hockey programs.”

A hockey arena had been considered at Highland Bridge, but those plans were dropped this summer. Baseball and softball remain in play as part of a sports complex for a 13-acre portion of the site.

The need for new sports facilities is being driven by UST’s recent move to Division I athletics. Amy McDonough, chief of staff and liaison to the UST president, said the timing for construction of all sports facilities depends on fundraising, which is now underway.

“After exploring multiple off-campus sites, we can confidently say a new on-campus home for hockey is the best path forward,” Esten said in a statement. “This arena will operate as a multipurpose facility that serves as an asset for our entire campus by offering student life and community engagement opportunities, in addition to serving as a home for our men’s and women’s hockey programs.”

Converting the former Canadian Pacific Railway yard at Highland Bridge into ballfields and parking means bringing in the Saint Paul Port Authority to finish the cleanup of the site. Later this month, the Port Authority board will vote on assuming Ryan Companies’ purchase agreement for the former rail yard, and will work on site testing and remediation on UST’s behalf, said Kathryn Sarnecki, the authority’s senior vice president for real estate and development. That work will also involve the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 

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The Port Authority does such projects through its nonprofit partner, Capital City Properties. Sarnecki said that grants will be sought to help with the cost of cleanup. UST will cover the remainder.

The site would be cleaned to residential and recreational standards, Sarnecki said. “We would deliver a shovel-ready-site,” she said. UST would eventually own the property.

Maureen Michalski, who leads Highland Bridge efforts for Ryan, presented two site plans for the ballfields. Both would include a 1,000-seat softball field, 1,500-seat baseball field and practice facility. What differs between the plans is whether around 300 parking spaces would be in a ramp or on a surface lot. UST officials said they would prefer surface parking.

The 1.5-acre Mica Park would be maintained at Highland Bridge and a second 1.6-acre park would be added to meet city parkland dedication requirements for the development. Space would also be provided for future transit or a trail through the old rail spur that served the Ford plant.

Ryan would bring in a partner to build 110 units of affordable housing on land north of the old rail yard. About 100,000 square feet of office space would be developed nearby.

Michalski said the plans are now being reviewed by city staff. A review of environmental impacts also continues, as do discussions about Highland Bridge’s master plan amendments, parkland dedication, redevelopment agreement changes and zoning changes. Work is also needed on any modifications to wetlands, which involves the city and the Capitol Region Watershed District. Yet another effort centers on the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport’s overlay district regarding building heights, which affects part of the site.

McDonough and Michalski answered questions about the development for more than a dozen neighbors who were present or online for the October 18 meeting. Most neighborhood concerns centered on retaining or replacing a longtime berm planted with trees and shrubs, and the preservation or relocation of wetlands.

The berm along the south side of the former Ford property shielded the plant from the neighborhood to the south for decades. “It’s really important to us,” said neighbor Jim Winterer. “(Removing it) would really change the nature of where we live.”

Neighbors also asked about the use of the ballfields. In part of the presentation, it was noted the fields would be available for use by the public.

— Jane McClure

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