Saint Kate’s Parking Lot Wants to Pave the Trees

Mendell Hall, Saint Paul’s finest road block.

A friend, who happens to be a Saint Catherine’s alum, told me a tale about the not too distant past. The city of Saint Paul was looking to run Prior Avenue straight through Saint Kate’s campus. Things like that take time and as soon as the nuns at the school heard the city’s plan they worked overtime and rushed the building of Mendell Hall. The building now stands as a formidable blockade to the trajectory of Prior Avenue: a charmingly obstinate Saint Paul political maneuver and a strong refusal of putting pavement where pavement doesn’t belong.

Where are those nuns now?

Saint Kate’s is now planning on doing the paving itself, this time in the form of a surface parking lot smack dab in the middle of the picturesque woods next to the quaintly-named Dewdrop Pond. The new parking lot is projected to have 257 spots, and is being built in anticipation of programs moving from downtown Minneapolis to the Saint Paul campus.

Mike, this parking lot is dumb.

Who needs campus charm?

I live approximately 150 feet from the site of the new parking lot and using what I would consider strong anecdotal data, no additional parking lot is necessary. Never have I arrived home to find my parking spaces filled with college student cars. In fact, requests for parking permits in the nearby neighborhood are significantly down, such that there’s even consideration of removing some of the permit-parking-only zones.

According to one of my neighbors who was at a recent meeting about the plan, city parking minimums are also being dragged out as a defense of adding yet another surface lot. And I feel like we were just talking about how stupid parking minimums were, and here we are again with another educational institution in town being forced to spend unnecessary money in service to a ordinance that’s actively hostile to the best interests of the community.

This parking lot proposal sits right in the heart of Highland Park, a community which has spent the last year in a knock-down drag-out fight about parking and development. Just about the only thing everyone can agree on is that we do not want to encourage more car traffic and that we like green space. A 257-space parking lot provides a strong incentive to car traffic at the direct and immediate cost of green space. Once those old trees are gone, they’re not coming back.

This parking lot proposal is a waste of money, time, and a timeless amenity. It’s a fool thing for Saint Kate’s to pursue, and it’s my hope that they ask the city for an exemption to the parking minimum.

I also think it’s a good reason for the rest of us to ask the city what purpose these college parking minimums are serving in our community.

33 thoughts on “Saint Kate’s Parking Lot Wants to Pave the Trees

  1. Andrew Andrusko

    It’s odd to me that the basis for this article is framed around parking minimums – when the true issue is clearly the removal of the trees that belong to the university and still exist because of it.

    Anecdotal evidence doesn’t establish much of an argument in favor of a narrow position against the university using their property for their students.The dialogue here is not about a public institution like a community college. Rhetorically, the university is acting according to it’s mission; not specifically serving the geographically adjacent community. The question within the university’s perspective is not whether the parking minimums serve the community; rather it is whether the proposed parking provides sufficient access for the university to serve it’s students and staff. The demand and needs for this institution are different in that it also is one of the major regional providers for adult, diverse and non-traditional students who are often commuters and do not live on campus. These issues aren’t new by any means. Historically, the university was established first (1906) and the neighborhood developed around it (1913-1940).

    While we are on the subject, the largest owner of institutional parking in this area is the University of Minnesota. Is there a reason that contributors have focused on small institutions like Metro State University and Saint Catherine University? It seems a little wrong to point the finger at institutions that provide for under-served student populations at the expense of making a point.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      There’s a huge amount of surface parking lot on that campus already.

      The U doesn’t serve under-served student population? Also, it’s done away with a huge amount of surface parking over the last two decades.

      1. Bill Lindekebill lindeke

        On my own blog, I have personally written about the UMN’s parking policy many times. Honestly, they are light years ahead of the rest of the area schools when it comes to multi-modal solutions and environmentally and economically sustainable parking policies. The Metro State case was particularly egregious because their existing parking was not being used!

        I would very much like to see St Kate’s study of parking usage and traffic demand management strategies before they create another expensive and environmentally damaging surface parking lot.

        1. Paul

          Como Student Community Cooperative has one of those environmentally friendly parking lots made up of pavers that allow water penetration and minimizes runoff. I was skeptical when they built it several years ago, but it has really held up to the elements.

        2. Andrew Andrusko

          Bill, certainly they exist in a different context and provide for different types of students than the others mentioned above. Recall that Metro State gets by on a meager operating budget of $77 million, an endowment of about $2 million, no land grant, no research dollars, no sports income. It’s one thing to sit and speak about the benefits of being sustainable, it’s another to be able to afford just to be able to pay your staff. These two are very different things and it speaks to the feeling of indifference to these social inequities that this discussion is within.

      2. Andrew Andrusko

        Certainly I/we don’t have the specific data on the quantity of data. Being an institutional land use – it’s not surprising.

        To your second point, the University of Minnesota doesn’t serve the same percentage of under-served populations no. In fact there exists a gap between ‘flagships universities’ that have moderate selectivity (e.g. 50% acceptance rates) and open access universities such as Metro State University. St. Kates was and is known for adult and non-traditional programs.

        With the 2016 development of the new M Health Outpatient Clinic the corner block of Fulton and Oak Street was demolished from housing into a surface lot to support it. Some of the surface lots were rebuilt and built new surrounding the 2009 $300 million TCF Bank Stadium were developed in the last decade. There are other examples, but the important thing here is that there is a difference between the student populations both between the two today and in the past.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          A great percentage of St. Kate’s graduate programs are on-line. My point is that parking should be priced accordingly and demand managed in that way before any institution builds more parking lots, in general. That’s what I’m curious about here.

    2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Does U of M have more parking relative to their student population? They do, at least, consolidate much of their parking into ramps and charge appropriately. I drove 1 of my 2 years of grad school at the U of M and paid about $120/mo. The first year I had a bike locker inside the ramps, which was like $60 for the whole school year, and made me feel a lot more comfortable leaving a nicer bike unattended all day.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Back in my day (’90s, baby), it was super cheap to park in giant lots on the stadium village side of campus.

          Or so I recall, as these were generally not terrible useful if the lived on campus or had most of your classes on the West Bank.

      1. Andrew Andrusko

        Sean, which campus are you asking about. With a student population split between Saint Paul and Minneapolis numbering in the 51,000 range it would be hard to make a specific comparison between the two given the very different contexts that they are located in. That being said even I recognize that they would probably have a lower percentile of student population divided by parking stalls.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          You state, “While we are on the subject, the largest owner of institutional parking in this area is the University of Minnesota”

          I think this is an unfair comparison when U of M has 10x the student population of St. Kate’s and 5x that of Metro State. It sounds like our assumption is the same — the U of M has far less of a parking ratio.

          Fair point that their Minneapolis campus is much better served by transit and more central. But neither Metro State nor St. Kate’s is exactly in the boonies. The U of M St. Paul campus seems comparable.

          1. Andrew Andrusko

            That comment was in reference to the matching of subject matter. So, as examples of discussing parking minimums we haven’t yet had an article discussing the largest holder of institutional parking in this relative area? Seems odd.

            I agree on your second point in so far as St. Kates is smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood (to no fault of it’s own). The University of Minnesota Saint Paul campus was historically developed to focus on agriculture. There are large growing fields surrounding it in Falcon Heights which makes that area of campus more rural in character. Looking to the south If you included the Randall Avenue shared parking lots or adjacent lots there is a lot of surface parking.

    3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      If I recall correctly about the Metro State thing, it wasn’t so much them building a parking ramp as that they rolled the cost into tuition, forcing non-driving students to subsidize driving students’ right to storage for their bulky possessions.

      At least personally, I have no grudge against their ramp. It’s a nice ramp — miles better than this surface lot at St. Kate’s. But don’t make students who get their by bike, bus, or foot pay for others’ more costly transportation choice.

  2. paddy

    Far and away my favorite part, I literally laughed out loud, was the caption on the picture “Who needs a little neighborhood charm?”. So, for posterity, neighborhood charm is good but neighborhood character is racist? This is Fox News level shamelessness.

    Strong anecdotal data…still laughing

    This parking lot proposal is a waste of…

    money (its not your money what do you care? Does St Kate’s need ask your permission before they spend their money? St Kate President: Before we hire some more teachers we will need to check with Tom to see if its okay. He might have some strong anecdotal data that we don’t need more teachers and can save our money)

    time (huh?)

    and a timeless amenity (that’s 75% dead but whatevs).

    It’s a fool thing for Saint Kate’s to pursue, and it’s my hope that they ask the city for an exemption to the parking minimum (why would they do that? They want a parking lot. They are closing their Minneapolis Campus and bringing all of those students to St Paul. Their parking lots are 97-98% full according to their data and they are adding more students. They don’t need an exemption they need parking. Even the World’s Smartest Man on the Internet who is never afraid to tell someone how to run their life, Nate, found parking for them).

    We save the old bread in our house to feed the ducks at St Kate’s. We had our wedding pictures taken at St Kate’s. We’ve had multiple sets of our family pictures taken at St Kate’s. We go church at St. Kate’s. We walk and ride through campus, and play on their playground. We have seen countless shows at O’Shaugnessy. St Kate’s is generous with their facilities and their grounds. And quite frankly, its none of my damn business what they do with their land and how they see fit to run their campus.

    1. Tom BasgenTom Basgen Post author

      Thanks for reading Paddy! Always good to have your neighbors come out to support you. So blessed!

      Sorry about the confusion regarding neighborhood character. The charm comment in the photo caption was sarcasm. To reiterate my stance on “Neighborhood Character”, that phrase is frequently used as a politically palatable veil for racist, classist, moronic, or just plain arbitrary policies and opinions.

      Thanks again for the time Paddy! I’m so glad you think my writing is worth reading.

  3. Monte Castleman

    So the neighbors know better than Saint Kate’s (which presumably hired professional consultants) how much parking Saint Kate’s needs? Just because there’s not a lot of parking spilling over onto neighborhood streets (which you can bet the neighbors would complain about too), doesn’t mean there won’t be when the programming moves from downtown Minneapolis. Sometime’s you’re proactive rather than reactive to problems.

    Presumably the nuns are still supporting what the college feels is in their best interest, which excluded a public street right down the center, but included adequate parking for future programming.

    1. Bill Lindekebill lindeke

      In my experience, bureaucrats tasked with “facilities management” often make decisions using myopic criteria. If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And if your only solution is more parking lots…

  4. Dana DeMasterDana DeMaster

    I’m a St Kate’s alumna and a frequent visitor to campus for many of the same reasons as Paddy. I am very disappointed in this plan.

    I think there are two issues, one to do with St Kate’s specifically and one that has to do with parking minimums in general. My alma mater touts itself as a forward-thinking institution, grounded in tradition, with an educational focus on STEM, health care, public health, and social work. Some of its more popular graduate programs are in leadership. How does more single occupancy vehicle use further health of individuals and communities in a time of climate crisis? Surely, current Katies are learning about climate change and its impact on the health of people they want to serve as professionals. The annual fee for parking on campus is very low (I believe $180?), which incents more driving. With an influx of students from its Minneapolis campus, how can car-pooling, transit, and bicycling be considered as part of the solution? How can the univserity help students who live on campus decrease their need for cars (and thereby open parking to commuters)? It is short-sighted to pave over a campus asset when other options are available.

    Secondly, I don’t think writers are “picking on” St Kate’s and Metro State so much as they’ve provided recent examples of parking expansion based in some way within the context of St Paul’s required parking minimums. It’s the parking minimums that are the problem, not how universities provide amenities to their students.

    1. paddy

      hmmmm I’m not even going to gather anecdotal data but maybe just maybe St. Kate’s has the most students who drive to school…

      how is this year crop of cherries that you are picking?

        1. Paddy

          LOL. You don’t know anything about St. Kate’s do you?

          Do me favor and see Bill’s hammer and nail analogy above/below/whatever and then just reverse the POV.

    2. Andrew Andrusko

      Does specific building use factor into this? Or are all building made equal? Are all of these really all just private liberal arts colleges? Does location matter? Or do we not care about context just blanket figures? I mean look at community colleges, right.

      I think this has more to do with the argument that I don’t like my neighbor next door chopping down trees and replacing my greenspace with X. That parking minimums are being invoked is secondary to the real outcome desired and that is no more noble then consistently ignoring other “recent parking expansion projects”.

  5. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Wait wait sorry, is this a real proposed location/design of the parking lot? Number of stalls notwithstanding, that is a really assaulting design. Surely they could make that less of just a single square sheet of asphalt.

    What are land use approvals/controls over a campus like St. Kate’s. Is it a PUD where the City has a more explicit back-and-forth involvement in this? Or can they build this as of right?

    I guess I am also totally confused by the parking minimum discussion. Usually new parking minimum are only enforced when major changes happen to the building/campus. I see St. Paul also has a trigger for increase in student population of at least 10%. Did either of those happen?

    I agree the parking minimums are not great policy (for campus uses I think it is better to defer to a plan created by the institution, given how unique and varied those are). But I’m not clear that’s the legitimate reason to create this lot.

    1. Dana DeMasterDana DeMaster

      The trigger is a campus consolidation where graduate programs now housed in Minneapolis are moving to Saint Paul, so, yes, an increase in students.

  6. Andrew Andrusko

    Tom, would you be as strongly opposed if Saint Kate’s moved the proposed lot location towards the existing residential hall lots? That might be a starting point to get to some middle ground on this. I’m not condoning parking expansion or minimums in general. But I also don’t see this as a black and white issue.

  7. Mike

    As a tax exempt institution I feel like my annual involuntary donation to Saint Kate’s gives me a right to say this parking plan stinks.

  8. roy c

    These students are near the 2 LRT lines and A line and many connecting buslines
    .The 87 and 74 run by the College I rarely see students on the buses.The city needs to charge for parking nearby .This only plan encourages students to drive and take up valuable parking. Even $1 /day is still cheaper than the bus with is $4.50

    St KATES needs to be a good neighbor and encourages transit and charge for parking.
    DO your part to reduce congestion and pollution!!

    1. Monte Castleman

      I’m not familiar with the student demographics at St Kate’s. How many students are from places like Inver Grove Heights, where it’s wildly impracticable to ride a bus to school, and even if it were, quite a few would flatly refuse to ride a bus no matter what? students would be willing? Is the reason you don’t see many on buses that most of them live on campus?

      Would it be better for the neighborhood if St Kate’s itself just packed up and moved to Inver Grove Heights so the neighbors don’t have to deal with their parking issues?

  9. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    A giant new parking lot would increase traffic (new parking does that like nothing else!) and obviously decrease green space. I’m sure the groups like Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul must be up in arms about this, right?

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