University developing plans for parking ramp on tennis courts site

This is the site plan for the south campus parking ramp, which would be constructed on the tennis courts southwest of Grand and Cretin avenues.

University developing plans for parking ramp on
tennis courts site

St. Thomas is developing plans to build a parking ramp on its tennis courts as part of a two-pronged effort to replace parking that will be lost because of construction of new student center and to encourage more people to park on campus and not in the neighborhood.

Preliminary plans call for a 704-car, five-level ramp near the southwest corner of Grand and Cretin avenues. The university hopes to begin construction in May 2008 and to open the ramp by the spring of 2009, a year before construction would begin on the new student center on Lot H on the northeast corner of Cretin and Summit.

The ramp would cost $13.2 million, or about $18,800 per stall, according to estimates by Ryan Companies, the Minneapolis-based contractor and architect for the project.

One level would be below-grade and the other four levels would be above grade, with the top deck of parking at about 33 feet above grade; the university’s Special Condition Use Permit allows a height of up to 60 feet with a 70-foot setback from Cretin. Motorists would enter and exit the ramp on the north end, across the service drive from the science center greenhouse, after entering the campus at Grand and Cretin.

St. Thomas decided to construct an above-grade ramp in connection with construction of a new student center on the university’s largest parking lot, which has 400 parking spaces. Preliminary planning for the student center has indicated that only 200 of the 400 parking places can be replaced on the site, and all would be underground.

In reviewing possible locations for a ramp, St. Thomas determined the only sites large enough are on the south campus – on the tennis courts and on the existing parking lots east of Cretin and Grace halls. St. Thomas chose the tennis courts primarily to simplify access for motorists and because a ramp on the other site would eliminate 210 surface parking spaces.

Ryan continues to work on design elements for the ramp, with a façade of alternating sections of brick and limestone-colored precast concrete that would resemble the Mankato-Kasota Stone exterior of Owens and O’Shaughnessy science halls.

The elevator and primary stairwell would be at the ramp’s northeast corner, closest to Grand and Cretin, with the stairwell constructed out of glass and Mankato-Kasota Stone and featuring a peaked roof similar to the peaks on the science center buildings.

The existing parking lot between the tennis courts and Cretin would be replaced by green space. A decision has not been made whether St. Thomas would maintain the south campus entrance and exit drive just north of the softball field.

St. Thomas and Ryan have discussed the ramp project on two occasions – first in October and then in January – with the West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee (WSNAC), which includes representatives from four neighborhood organizations. Committee members have made a number of suggestions, encouraging St. Thomas and Ryan to design a more attractive ramp façade, especially on the east side facing Cretin, and to replace the surface lot facing Cretin with green space.

Another WSNAC suggestion was to eliminate a grounds maintenance garage proposed for inside the ramp and to place the garage elsewhere. St. Thomas has agreed to this suggestion and is examining other locations. The existing maintenance garage is located at 2076 Grand, but St. Thomas must sell that property, as well as the houses at 2080 and 2084 Grand, by August 2008 as part of an agreement approved by the St. Paul City Council to redevelop two blocks on the south side of Summit.

The university will continue to work closely with WSNAC and hopes the committee will endorse the project this summer. Endorsements also will be sought from the Macalester-Groveland and Merriam Park community councils this summer or fall before the project is submitted to the city for approval.

The city will require a traffic study that will analyze the impact of the ramp on vehicular traffic on Cretin, already a busy arterial street because it serves as a feeder for Interstate 94. The study also will examine the ramp’s impact on pedestrian traffic between the south campus and the main campus. SRF Consulting Inc., a Plymouth-based firm that conducted Summit traffic studies and designed a new pedestrian plan for Summit, will conduct the Cretin traffic study this spring.

St. Thomas has not decided whether to replace the tennis courts, but will study other locations on the south campus. The ramp will not affect the softball and soccer fields.

As work progresses on the ramp, St. Thomas will continue planning for the new student center, which will include dining facilities, a bookstore, post office and offices for student organizations. If St. Thomas is able to raise sufficient funds for the project and receives city approval, construction could begin as early as May 2010 and the center could open in the fall of 2011.

The existing student center – Murray-Herrick – then would be renovated for administrative and academic use.