St. Thomas presented revised plans for its Summit Avenue expansion project to a Macalester-Groveland Community Council task force on Wednesday evening, Aug. 2.
The plans (see links at right to architect’s sketches) show how the university might develop the blocks bounded by Summit, Cleveland, Grand and Cretin avenues over the next two decades. Compared with earlier plans, the new designs feature fewer buildings, fewer parking spaces and more green space.
The most-specific plans are for the "east" block between Finn and Cleveland, calling for two new buildings on Summit for undergraduate business and music education programs. A building on Grand east of Finn would include the Child Development Center on the ground floor and housing for 32 students on the second and third floors. A parking ramp under the block would have between 300 and 600 spaces, depending on whether one or two levels were built. St. Thomas hopes to begin construction on the business building in 2002.
Less-definitive plans have been developed for the "west" block between Finn and Cretin. There could be two academic buildings on Summit and up to five apartment buildings on Grand, with additional parking under the block. Finn would be closed under this proposal, which will be further developed as St. Thomas determines its long-term building needs and raises necessary funds.
St. Thomas and Opus Architects & Engineers have discussed the expansion plan with the community since last fall, and presented initial concept designs for the two-block area at a May 10 meeting. Task force and public reaction to the designs was mostly negative at the time. People objected to the numbers of buildings on Summit, residential units on Grand, vehicles on surrounding streets and pedestrians crossing Summit.
St. Thomas and Opus spent the last three months revising the designs. Reaction to the new plans Wednesday night from the crowd of 200 was mostly negative, with opponents saying the project still is too big and would have a negative impact on the residential neighborhood. Others criticized the university’s intention to remove homes on the south side of Summit, which is in a historic district.
The university wants to redevelop the two blocks to better meet its needs for academic, residential and parking facilities, explained Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations at St. Thomas, and John Albers, senior vice president at Opus.
They pointed to several benefits that would address neighbors’ concerns about the May designs. The project would:
- Allow St. Thomas to replace substandard facilities for several academic programs and concentrate the placement of future buildings on the two blocks instead of spreading them out around the campus and in the neighborhood.
- Increase the percentage of students who live on campus and reduce the number of students in off-campus rental housing. Nearly 2,000, or 40 percent, of undergraduate day students live on campus; the university’s long-term goal is to increase that to 50 percent.
- Create more parking on campus and reduce the number of St. Thomas-bound cars on neighborhood streets.
The St. Paul City Council, in signing a 1990 Special Condition Use Permit with St. Thomas, acknowledged the university would continue to purchase property on the two blocks. The city document also notes St. Thomas’ interest in redeveloping the blocks because they are a natural link between the main campus north of Summit and the former St. Paul Seminary campus.
St. Thomas has said the project will not lead to large enrollment increases, as some people fear. St. Paul campus enrollment dropped throughout the 1990s as graduate programs in business, education and professional psychology moved to the Minneapolis campus. Overall enrollment in St. Paul hit a high of 8,712 students in 1991 and decreased 16 percent, to 7,314, by 1999. Undergraduate enrollment in St. Paul was stable during that period — 5,132 in 1991 and 5,153 in 1999.
The community task force will review the project and make formal recommendations to St. Thomas, after which the university will submit a preliminary plan to the city in the fall. The city will hire a consultant to conduct an environmental assessment worksheet review, after which St. Thomas will make additional changes to the redevelopment plan before submitting it to the city next year for formal review.
The St. Paul Planning Commission must approve a new SCUP, which establishes heights and setbacks for new construction, sets a cap on enrollment and determines the number of required parking spaces. The St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission must approve requests to raze buildings and to construct new buildings on Summit because the avenue is in a historic district.
Decisions by either commission can be appealed to the St. Paul City Council.