Parking plans meet neighborhood complaints


The current parking lot at Metropolitan State University’s St. Paul campus covers an entire city block and can accommodate 550 cars. As part of an expansion plan, the university intends to construct an 815-stall parking ramp on the lot, along with a student center and another building. (submitted graphic)

Nearby homeowners voice opposition to Metro State’s proposed parking ramp

Metropolitan State University, with a growing student body, has been honing a master plan to expand in order to meet its projected growth rates. The construction plan includes a parking ramp, a student center and a new building for nursing programs.

Administrators are also awaiting approval of bonding funds from the state Legislature to put in a new science facility, something that’s been in the works for years.

The first bit of construction scheduled is an 815-car parking ramp on what’s currently a surface lot, located on the southeast side of East Seventh Street between Maria and Bates avenues. The proposal has stirred up a fair bit of dialogue.

The ramp plan has been repeatedly met with criticism from residents, Deanna Foster from the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council and city council member Kathy Lantry.

In addition to the 815 stalls, an expansion of the parking ramp would be included in a second phase of construction a few years down the road.

A fortress

Attendees at a community input meeting on Tuesday, July 9, sported sour faces and voiced concerns about the ramp, bringing up everything from traffic headaches to economic development strategies to a lack of visual appeal.

Glen Meyer, a Dayton’s Bluff resident who attended the meeting, said the plans make the university look like “one big fortress,” essentially walling the school off from the neighborhood.

The purpose of the meeting was to present modifications the university had made to the plans, based on previous public input.

“There was significant change from the original parking design” as a result of community input, said Jesse Bethke Gomez, vice president at MSU. Among the changes were aesthetic upgrades to the structure, an added safety feature of a windowed stairwell along East Seventh, and pushing the structure back 10 feet from the sidewalk to allow for more landscaping.

Residents say it’s not enough

Despite the changes, many present at the meeting were not satisfied.

“Nothing was taken into consideration,” said one resident. “Yeah, you have your meeting and we can vent, but when we go away, you have your master plan,” he said.

Ellen Biales said she’s concerned the college administrators aren’t taking the neighborhood into consideration with their plans. Biales is a legislative aide to Lantry, who represents Ward 7 on the St. Paul City Council.

“The larger concern is this sense that the campus is really not interacting with the neighborhood,” she said. “At a time when we’re trying to do a lot of development on Seventh (Street) ... trying to create a pedestrian- and transit-oriented street, they’re sort of walling themselves off from the neighborhood.”

Deanna Foster echoed that sentiment, saying the placement of a parking ramp right along Seventh Street goes against the development of the street as a commercial corridor. With Mississippi Market and a senior housing complex possibly going in just up the street, the traffic corridor has got potential, she said.

If the parking ramp goes in as it’s planned now, “it’s going to put MSU on the wrong side of history,” she said.

Third party

Lantry’s office brought in a third party a couple months ago to provide recommendations to MSU. The group, called the St. Paul Design Center, is part of the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation and works “to stimulate economic and community development through urban design,” according to its website.

“We’re encouraging them to work to connect the campus with the neighborhood,” said Tim Griffin, director of the Design Center. The current plans “don’t measure up to that standard yet,” he added.

He said it was hard to see at this point whether the university is being receptive to this or not, since it hasn’t submitted a site plan to the city for review. He lauded the college’s work on security and the move to add green space beside the ramp.

He also said the parking structure’s placement is acceptable, though the Design Center is encouraging the university to look for a way to have an active-use first floor, such as offices, classrooms or storefronts.

Next steps

MSU has yet to submit a site plan for review, which could put a strain on the proposed September start date, Biales said.

In terms of resolving the community’s concerns, there is “certainly not an easy solution,” Foster said.

Gomez said MSU would continue to do follow-up. He said the university plans to have another input meeting in a month, which was a change from the quarterly meeting schedule discussed at the July 9 meeting.

“We are committed to continuing to engage our community,” he said, adding that he thought the July 9 meeting was productive.

Foster noted that not everyone can be happy with the final result -- “it obviously requires a compromise,” she said. But if a compromise isn’t reached “I think you’ll be kicking yourself later,” she warned MSU officials, “and we’re kicking you now.”

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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