St. Thomas neighbors appeal site plan approved for new D1 hockey, basketball arena

Invoking the city’s Climate Action Plan, husband-and-wife homeowners living near the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul have asked the city’s Planning Commission to take a second look at plans for a new 5,500 seat, indoor hockey and basketball arena off Cretin and Grand avenues, where construction work has recently shifted from demolition and site prep to building the foundation.

On April 4, city planning staff approved the site plan for the Lee and Penny Anderson Arena, a future home of the university’s NCAA Division 1 sports teams.

Opponents, mostly nearby homeowners, banding together under the title Advocates for Responsible Development submitted an appeal of that decision to the city on Monday, as did Fairmount Avenue residents Donn Waage and Virginia Housum in a separate filing. The two appeals effectively punt the site plan to the city’s Planning Commission for further review.

Climate Action Plan

Waage, a spokesman for the ARD group, said the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan states that new construction on institutional campuses should be compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods.

“We think that was totally ignored,” he said.

The Comprehensive Plan seeks to reduce vehicle miles in St. Paul by 40% by the year 2040 as part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions, and the city’s Climate Action Plan calls for carbon neutrality by the year 2050. The university’s traffic study predicts 3,000 attendees for a typical men’s game, or 775 vehicles per event, and roughly half of that for the typical women’s events. At upwards of 60 events per year, that adds up to more than 135,000 visitors annually, many driving in from outside the city.

“We believe that there are going to be many more than that, but that’s just using their figures,” Waage said.

University officials have noted that while hockey is currently played off-campus, basketball is already played on campus, so not all of those visitors can be counted as new, or added, attendees. There were 18 men’s hockey home games scheduled this year, and 17 games for women’s hockey. There were 14 men’s and 14 women’s basketball games scheduled on campus.

The appeals also focus on technical aspects of the arena’s conditional use permit.

A hearing before the Planning Commission has yet to be scheduled, but city staff on Tuesday confirmed receipt of both appeals.

University of St. Thomas statement

A spokesman for St. Thomas on Tuesday said the university had not yet received copies of either appeal and could not comment on the specific questions raised.

“St. Thomas looks forward to continued progress on this project,” reads an unsigned statement from the university, “which will enhance the student experience on campus and create new opportunities for the community, while helping to raise visibility for the university and the region as a whole.”

With community concerns in mind, St. Thomas has created a web page with frequently asked questions related to the arena at

The Advocates for Responsible Development, which represents some 200 residents and other arena opponents, also is fighting the arena in the courts. They’ve argued that construction should trigger a more elaborate environmental review by the city than the Environmental Assessment Worksheet published last June. Oral arguments before the Minnesota Court of Appeals were held April 11, with a response expected from the court within 90 days.

About 70% of the $183.4 million arena, expected to open in the fall of 2025, is backed by philanthropic giving, including a record $75 million gift to the university from Lee and Penny Anderson. The new playing space will allow the men’s and women’s hockey teams to transition away from the St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights, which they share with St. Thomas Academy.

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