Here is an architect’s sketch of what a residential village could look like at St. Thomas, with an effort to blend new housing such as apartment buildings and townhouses on Summit and Grand avenues. The village has not been designed; the buildings shown here are only conceptual in nature.

St. Thomas drops two academic buildings from Summit project

The University of St. Thomas is changing its development plan for two blocks by dropping two of four academic buildings and adding a residential village that will reflect the architecture and character of Summit and Grand avenues.

The latest plan is a significant departure from a February 2001 plan under which four academic buildings and less student housing would have been constructed on the blocks bounded by Summit, Cleveland, Grand and Cretin avenues. The plan retains the commitment to underground parking on the project site, adding to the overall number of on-campus parking spaces.

St. Thomas decided on less academic space – and more residential space – for the project after examining its long-term space needs and participating in eight months of mediation discussions with representatives of four neighborhood organizations.

“We’re pleased with the changes in the project,” said Father Dennis Dease, president. “The new plan will allow us to better accomplish our goal of having more students live on campus – and not in the neighborhood – and provide new and better academic facilities at the same time.”

Dease said one of the plan’s alternatives is contingent on St. Thomas acquiring three parcels of land that it does not own on the two blocks. The university is negotiating for the property – the Oasis Market at 2067 Grand and residential sites on each of the two blocks.

“If we are unable to acquire these parcels, we have an alternative plan that would meet our needs,” Dease said. “We would place one academic building on each block and place around them the student residences.”

Neighbors have long expressed concerns that the university was attempting to place too many academic buildings on Summit between Cleveland and Cretin. The first plan, unveiled in May 2000, called for five academic buildings totaling 276,000 square feet and later plans called for four buildings with a total of 267,000 square feet.

The new plan has 150,000 square feet of academic space. The two Collegiate Gothic buildings each would be 75,000 square feet and up to three stories high, or 59 feet at the ridge, with Summit setbacks of 100 feet on the three-story portions. The massing of the buildings would be softened with one- and two-story elements to help them blend with the scale of residential buildings and the neighborhood to the south.

St. Thomas hopes to begin construction in 2004 on a business education building on the site of Christ Child Hall on the southwest corner of Summit and Cleveland. A music education building would be built either on the southeast corner of Summit and Finn, if St. Thomas is able to purchase property there, or on Summit between Finn and Cretin.

The newest component of the plan is a residential village that will make it possible for more students to live on campus and not in the surrounding neighborhood.

The village could be constructed on several parcels. If both academic buildings are constructed on the block between Cleveland and Finn, the village would take up the entire block between Finn and Cretin. There also would be housing on Grand between Cleveland and Finn, south of the academic buildings.

“We’re excited about the village concept,” Dease said. “The residential buildings will reflect the architectural character of both Grand and Summit. The buildings will be only three stories high, so they will look like they fit in a residential neighborhood and will serve as a strong visual transition from the campus north of Summit to the neighborhood south of Grand.”

St. Thomas estimates between 550 and 750 people could live on the site, depending on the size, scale and spacing of the residential buildings. Most of them would be juniors and seniors, and some units would be reserved for graduate students, faculty and staff. The village would be under the supervision of the university’s Campus Living office.

The university also has agreed to examine ways to save some of the existing Summit houses between Finn and Cretin and integrate them with the village. Under the old plans, all of the houses would have been displaced to make way for the academic buildings.

A third component of the project is underground parking. St. Thomas estimates it could construct between 500 and 700 spaces, which would be used by residents as well as those using the academic buildings. Motorists would access the parking off Finn between Grand and Summit.

Dease thanked neighbors who participated in the mediation process, which was encouraged by St. Paul City Council member Jay Benanav and coordinated by Public Strategies Group of St. Paul. Although the mediation ended earlier this month without a formal agreement, Dease said the discussions helped St. Thomas improve its plan and find more common ground with neighbors.

“We have a better plan today than we did a year ago, and it is more sensitive to neighbors’ concerns,” he said. “We know that everyone won’t be satisfied with every aspect, but as we have moved forward we have tried to find common
ground and still meet the goals of the project – to provide better academic facilities, more housing and more parking.”

Dease also committed to continuing discussions with neighbors and said the university will hold an open forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, in the Brady Educational Center auditorium on campus. “We are looking forward to hearing from the entire neighborhood.”

Another neighborhood concern is whether the university wants to purchase additional property beyond its traditional boundaries – Grand and Goodrich on the south, Cleveland on the east, Selby on the north and Cretin on the west.

St. Thomas has said it has no such plans and that the Summit project site, along with parcels on the existing campus, will meet space needs for the foreseeable future. St. Thomas has offered to include in any new zoning agreement a promise that it will not acquire additional neighborhood property for 10 years except for homes for the president and chancellor, who live on the Summit project site. Last year, St. Thomas sold two apartment buildings outside its boundaries – on the southeast corner of Grand and Cretin and on the northeast corner of Cleveland and Laurel.

St. Thomas will not submit a final plan to the city until it concludes purchase negotiations with owners of three properties on the project site and is able to determine specific locations for the academic and residential buildings.

The city is conducting an environmental review (an Environmental Assessment Worksheet) of the project, which also must undergo zoning and historic district reviews before construction can begin.

Here is the option on the Summit Avenue project if St. Thomas is unable to purchase three properties (those that are screened) on the site. The academic buildings would be split between the two blocks. The first building (on the right) at Summit and Cleveland would be for business education. The second building (on the left) on Summit between Finn and Cretin would be for music programs. The building footprints shown here are approximate and do not represent their precise placement. The remainder of the site would be developed as a residential village. Parking would be underground, with access off Finn.   Here is the option on the Summit Avenue project if St. Thomas purchases three properties that it doesn’t own on the site. The two academic buildings (business education on the right and music on the left) would be constructed on the south side of Summit between Cleveland and Finn. The building footprints shown here are approximate and do not represent their precise placement. The remainder of the site would be developed as a residential village. Parking would be underground, with access off Finn.