Latest plan calls for new berm, fences and retaining walls.
More than 50 people attended a meeting at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on February 28 to see the University of Saint Thomas’ latest plan for new baseball and softball stadiums in Highland Park. The sports complex would be located in the southeast corner of the Highland Bridge development, on what had been a Canadian Pacific Railroad yard serving the former Ford Motor Company assembly plant. It would include a 1,000-seat softball stadium, 1,500-seat baseball stadium, an adjoining concourse, a practice facility and 330-space parking lot.
Highland Bridge master developer Ryan Companies handed off its purchase agreement for the old rail yard late last year to the Saint Paul Port Authority, which will clean up the site and then sell it to Saint Thomas.
Property tax picture would not change
Local residents at the meeting raised concerns about noise, bright lights and parking congestion. Marcia Avner questioned the effect the development would have on the city’s property tax base.
CP Rail does not pay property taxes, but it has been paying about $5,000 annually in city assessments on the property, according to Amy McDonough, chief of staff for UST president Rob Vischer. While UST also does not pay property taxes, it too pays various city assessments. Tickets sold at ballgames will also be subject to sales taxes, part of which goes to the city.
Neighbors pleased with landscaped buffer
Other neighbors said they are more comfortable with the project after seeing the latest plans, which call for a new berm and landscaping, new fences and retaining walls between the sports complex and the homes to the south. The higher grade of Hampshire Avenue on the southern edge of the property will also serve as a buffer.
“I’m encouraged by what this could look like,” said neighbor Jim Winterer. “I think this is what we were hoping for.”
A better venue for UST baseball and softball
The new stadiums would be used by the UST baseball and softball teams for practices and about 20 games each in the spring and for practices and a few games each in the fall. They would replace the baseball and softball fields on UST’s north and south campuses, respectively. The current baseball field only has a couple of hundred seats and it often sells out, according to Phil Esten, UST athletics director.
UST’s baseball teams typically play their home games on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The softball teams usually play on Saturdays and Sundays, though some midweek games are possible. UST officials said they would be willing to share the use of the fields by local high school and youth teams.
UST is planning to construct a parking lot to serve the complex, but a parking ramp could be added if the demand warrants it.
Stadiums could be shared with youth leagues
Scott Andreason, a board member of Highland Ball, liked what he saw of the plans. Highland Ball has two diamonds for its baseball and softball programs just northeast of the proposed UST sports complex. “One thousand kids use our fields,” Andreason said.
Highland Ball lost one of its three ballfields when work on the Highland Bridge development began. Being able to share UST’s two ballfields means Highland Ball’s teams would not have to travel outside of the area for games, Andreason said. He also liked the idea of sharing the parking lot. “This is a great opportunity for Highland Ball,” he said.
Environmental impact study is underway
Before the stadium complex can be built, it will require a complicated series of approvals. An alternative urban areawide review is now underway to update a study done in 2019 to determine the various environmental impacts of the Highland Bridge development. The update is typically done every five years, but is being bumped up from 2024 to address the stadium complex. The results will be released for public comment in May.
Ford site master plan would need to change
Major amendments to the Ford site’s master plan are also underway to accommodate the new sports facilities, allow flexibility for a future transit corridor and make other changes. These changes will be reviewed by the Highland District Council on March 21, and by the Saint Paul Planning Commission in April. A final review by the City Council is expected this summer.
The sports complex requires relocating Highland Bridge’s Mica Park, which has been platted but not developed. Developing the old rail yard will also require a land swap and changes to how much parkland is to be provided at Highland Bridge. The Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Commission will review those changes on March 9; the City Council will be asked to approve them, most likely in June.
Wetlands at the site need to be relocated with the approval of the Capitol Region Watershed District. The Federal Aviation Administration is also reviewing the planned sports complex for compliance with the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport overlay district.
Changes to the Highland Bridge redevelopment agreement with the city are also underway and should be completed by August. It is not known yet when any zoning changes will be brought forward.
— Jane McClure
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