Apr 16, 2024 - News

University of St. Thomas' Division I sports arena plans strain relations with neighbors

At least four yard signs reading "Just Say No, 5,500 Seat Arena" sit in yards along a residential street

Neighbors who oppose the University of St. Thomas' plans for a new 5,500-seat arena display signs facing campus. Photo: Kyle Stokes/Axios

Construction equipment is already lining up on the University of St. Thomas campus to build a new 5,500-seat sports arena, but a group of neighbors want to force the school — and St. Paul — to delay the project.

Why it matters: St. Thomas needs larger facilities if it's going to truly capitalize on its recent leap to Division I college athletics.

Yes, but: This case shows how that construction could cause tension in the quiet residential neighborhood that surrounds the campus.

Driving the news: A neighbor-led group, Advocates for Responsible Development (ARD), has petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals, hoping to force the city to redo its assessment of the arena's environmental risks.

  • The court heard oral arguments last week.

By the numbers: Plans say the new Lee and Penny Anderson Arena would have a capacity for 4,000 people for hockey, or 5,500 for basketball, with around 35 events annually.

  • A city-commissioned analysis says a "typical" event would draw 773 cars to campus — though on a handful of nights each year, the biggest events would bring nearly twice those numbers.
Computer rendering of a basketball arena with cheering fans, a hardwood floor and luxury suites hanging over arena bowl seating
Renderings of the proposed Lee and Penny Anderson Arena. Image courtesy of the University of St. Thomas

What they're saying: ARD contends the city miscalculated and underestimated the strain that arena events would put on parking on and around campus.

  • Neighbors are also worried about congestion on game nights — which could lead to more greenhouse gas emissions as visitors idle in traffic or circle neighborhood streets looking for parking.

"St. Thomas is notorious for their lack of parking," ARD spokesperson Donn Waage told Axios. "This is just going to make it much, much worse."

  • The city's analysis found that St. Thomas would be short between 330 and 742 on-campus parking spots for the best-attended games — though the crunch wouldn't be this bad for every event.

The other side: In its court filings, St. Thomas argued that many of ARD's contentions — including the claim that the city got its parking numbers wrong — are "demonstrably false."

  • The university also said a long list of state agencies raised no objections to the city's calculation of greenhouse gas emissions related to the project, which didn't include emissions from visitors.
  • St. Thomas has also shared plans to address parking concerns, which include setting aside certain spaces for fans, using shuttles from off-site lots, and encouraging more ridesharing, transit use, biking, and walking.

The big picture: St. Thomas' move to D-I athletics is tied to the school's desire to "become a national Catholic educational brand," local sports journalist Pat Borzi reported — which boosters hope will be good for enrollment.

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