Anderson family’s $75M gift sets in motion planning for new multipurpose facility.
A $75 million gift from longtime benefactors Lee and Penny Anderson to the University of Saint Thomas has launched a year-long effort to draw up plans for a new hockey and basketball arena on UST’s south campus. The donation has also ignited a discussion of what the new 4,000- to 6,000-seat multipurpose facility would mean for the adjacent Macalester-Groveland and Merriam Park neighborhoods.
Saint Thomas students, faculty, staff and alumni packed the atrium of UST’s Anderson Student Center for the January 17 announcement. Representatives of the four teams that will use the facility—men’s and women’s hockey and men’s and women’s basketball—cheered the news. Coaches and student athletes described the facility as a game-changer for the university, which moved from NCAA Division III to Division I two years ago.
“How great is this?” said Rico Blasi, men’s hockey coach.
A major step up for University of St. Thomas
With the arena, UST will be playing its home hockey games on campus for the first time ever. The men’s and women’s teams play their games at Saint Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights currently. Home basketball games will move from Schoenecker Arena on the north campus. That facility will continue to be used for volleyball, intramural athletics and physical education classes.
UST president Rob Vischer and UST vice president and athletic director Phil Esten described the new facility as a major step forward, not just for the athletics department but for the university as a whole as it strives to become a nationally leading Catholic university.
“We’ve only begun the journey,” Esten said.
The largest gift to any university in Minnesota history
The $75 million is not only the largest gift in UST’s history, it is also the largest gift to any university in Minnesota. Lee Anderson said that he and his wife Penny were “thrilled” to make such a generous gift. They have given about $140 million to Saint Thomas in recent years toward the building of the Anderson Student Center and the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Center on the north campus and the Anderson Parking Ramp on the south campus.
Lee Anderson said the new facility will become a key portion of the university experience for Saint Thomas students. “College is where you figure out how you can be a part of something bigger than yourself,” he said, “building character and finding purpose.”
UST made the historic move from Division III to Division I athletics in 2020, after being asked to leave the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference where its teams made a habit of winning titles. While most of its sports facilities were able to weather the transition, UST’s existing hockey, baseball and softball facilities are viewed as being inadequate for that level of play.
Site of new arena was long time in coming
UST indicated last year that it was looking at the south campus for a new hockey arena or multipurpose facility. It has been working for many months with Highland Bridge master developer Ryan Companies on plans for new sports facilities at the former Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Highland Park. Though a hockey arena was eliminated from consideration at Highland Bridge, baseball and softball stadiums were still part of the mix. UST offered $61 million to purchase the nearby Town and Country Club golf course almost a year ago. However, that offer was rejected by the club membership.
New arena could be used for many purposes
UST has chosen Ryan Companies and Crawford Architects to do the design-build for the new multipurpose facility. The facility will have 4,000 seats for hockey and 5,000 seats for basketball, with additional seating possible for other events. It could accommodate commencement exercises, convocations, career fairs and other presentations. It will have two sheets of ice, one for practice and one for games. It will also have basketball game and practice facilities as well as locker rooms and offices. According to Esten, talks are already underway with local youth and high school hockey programs about sharing the ice sheets.
Dormitory, auxiliary gym and service center will be torn down
Torn down to make way for the new arena will be he new arena will be the Cretin Hall dormitory, McCarthy Gym and a service center. The dormitory and service center date from the 1890s. McCarthy Gym was built in the 1960s. All three buildings were part of the original Saint Paul Seminary campus. Vischer said students can continue to live at Cretin Hall through the 2022-23 and 2023-24 academic years, and that the campus has adequate capacity to absorb the lost dorm beds.
Arena’s opening is planned for fall 2025
UST’s goal is to complete the design work and to submit a site plan for the multipurpose facility by January 2024. Once the site plan and building permits are approved by the city, construction can begin if UST has raised at least 75 percent of the $175 million project cost. The goal is to have the facility ready for use by the fall of 2025.
Any new construction on campus is limited by Saint Thomas’ 2004 conditional use permit (CUP), which limits building heights and setbacks, enrollment and other growth factors. UST officials said the new construction will fall within CUP limits. What could trigger an amendment to the CUP is the need to add levels to the Anderson Parking Ramp at Cretin and Grand avenues. Esten and Vischer said that it is too early to know if the CUP will need to be reopened.
The multipurpose facility would face the interior of campus. It is seen as completing the south campus quadrangle. Brady Education Center and Binz Refectory would remain, as would the athletic fields at the northwest corner of Cretin and Goodrich avenues.
University plans to discuss parking needs with neighbors
Because the city of Saint Paul dropped its minimum parking requirements last year, UST can build the new facility with no additional parking. Esten and Vischer said the Anderson Parking Ramp will be able to accommodate arena fans. However, parking is an issue they intend to discuss with residents of the adjacent neighborhoods. Much of the neighborhood south and southeast of the campus is in a residential permit parking district.
The West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee has tentative plans for a community conversation on the arena on January 24. WSNAC cochair Noelle Jacquet-Morrison said neighbors have already raised concerns about traffic and parking.
UST officials will discuss plans for the multipurpose facility with the Macalester-Groveland Community Council Housing and Land Use Committee on January 25. A meeting with representatives of the Union Park District Council has not been scheduled, but a community meeting is planned for Monday, February 13, at the Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Ave.
For more information on the arena and project updates, visit stthomas.edu/neighbors.
— Jane McClure