Traffic and parking studies
may offer some answers.
The University of Saint Thomas’ plan to build a new 4,000- to 5,000-seat arena on its south campus at Grand and Cretin avenues has Macalester-Groveland residents worried about increased traffic and parking congestion. More than 40 residents filled a Merriam Park Library meeting room on February 13 to address their concerns with UST officials. Organizers of the meeting said that while they are not necessarily against the project, they are concerned about its potential impact.
“I don’t want to categorize us as NIMBYs,” said Meg Grove, a member of the group Neighbors United. She and others said the issue is one of balance between the needs of UST and those of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Amy McDonough, chief of staff to UST president Rob Vischer, acknowledged that the project has many unknowns. Those include traffic and parking, which are a top concern for UST officials too, she said.
Arena would raise UST’s profile nationally
McDonough and others from UST explained that the new Lee and Penny Anderson Arena would raise the profile of Saint Thomas nationally and attract prospective students at a time when many colleges and universities are experiencing declines in enrollment. UST is in its second season of competition in NCAA Division I, after being asked to leave the Division III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The capacity of the proposed arena and the UST’s ability to handle the campus expansion dominated the discussion on February 13. The $175 million facility would hold 4,000 spectators for hockey, 5,000 for basketball and up to 6,000 for other university events such as commencement exercises.
Adequate parking is a priority for Saint Thomas
The city recently eliminated its off-street parking requirements for new developments like the proposed arena. However, UST will be required to conduct a detailed parking and traffic study before the project can move forward, according to Mark Vangsgard, UST’s chief financial officer and vice president for business affairs.
The parking and traffic study will be reviewed by the city as part of the site plan and an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) for the arena. The EAW will assess the impacts of the project and recommend ways to mitigate those impacts. Citizens will be allowed to comment on the EAW. Site plan reviews are usually conducted by city staff, but citizens can request that the site plan for the new arena be reviewed by the Saint Paul Planning Commission following a public hearing.
UST wants sports fans and other campus visitors to have a good experience, said Phil Esten, the university’s athletic director and vice president for athletics. That means being able to accommodate the demand for parking, he said.
UST plans to handle arena parking in the same way as football parking
UST officials said that in addition to following the recommendations of the traffic and parking study, they plan to handle arena parking in the same way they handle parking for football games. That includes use of the Anderson Parking Ramp’s 750 spaces and the surface parking lots throughout the campus. Campus lots are largely open during weekend football games. UST officials believe that about 80 percent of the 2,700 campus parking spaces are available after 6 p.m. on weekdays.
Remote parking lots are also possible
According to McDonough, UST officials are considering the use of buses to shuttle hockey and basketball fans from remote parking lots. They also intend to promote the use of mass transit. About half of UST’s students in Saint Paul live on campus, they said. Those students will walk to games, and so will the students who live near campus, they said.
The men’s and women’s hockey teams now play their games at Saint Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights. Students must drive to the games there. Basketball games are played in Schoenecker Arena on the north campus.
Traffic congestion is another concern
Neighbors are concerned about traffic congestion on Cretin Avenue, especially at Grand Avenue where cars enter and exit the Anderson Parking Ramp. UST officials anticipate that buses and service vehicles headed to the arena will enter and exit the south campus from Summit Avenue, using a service drive to access designated parking south of the new facility.
Traffic has increased in recent years on Cretin, and local residents are worried that congestion will grow with the arena and the ongoing redevelopment of the former Ford Plant in Highland Park. Some have called for the city and UST to consider how Cretin could be reconfigured to handle more traffic.
McDonough and Jim Brummer, UST’s vice president for facilities management, said efforts are already underway to mitigate the impacts of the arena on the neighborhood. For example, the facility is planned near the center of the south campus, as far from the neighborhood as possible. The ice-making equipment would be inside the building, possibly in the basement, to mitigate any mechanical noise.
Updated information on the proposed facility is regularly posted at stthomas.edu/neighbors. There, answers are provided to frequently asked questions. An email address is also provided for local residents who would like to submit questions of their own.
— Jane McClure
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