St. Thomas Hockey search for new rink site continues – The Rink Live

ST. PAUL – There’s an accepted rule in the world of real estate acquisition that if you publicly express your interest in a property, the price will go up – often quickly and dramatically.

With that in mind, as research continues for a future home rink site for men’s and women’s hockey at the University of St. Thomas, it’s understandable if Tommies Athletic Department officials aren’t doling out a ton details of where their teams might call home in a few years.

Phil Esten, St Thomas’ sporting director, was open and friendly, but reserved, in a recent conversion to that effect with The Rink Live.

“I wish I could say more about what we’re looking at, but I want to be fair and sensitive to the parties involved,” said Esten, who came to St. Thomas in early 2019 and oversaw their transition to the division. . I athletics at all levels. “And I want to put everyone in a good position to very authentically consider what all the options are.”

“Highland Bridge” is the fanciful name for the former Ford Motors factory site along the Mississippi River in St. Paul, which is just under two miles south of the St. Thomas campus. The site, which includes over 130 acres of land, is being developed with condos, retail and public spaces.

For a time it looked like it would also be the future home of some Tommies sports, but after much discussion the school announced last month that it was no longer considering Highland Bridge as a potential site for facilities sports. Although Esten didn’t say as much, his comments sounded like the price had gotten too high.

Montreal Avenue west of Cleveland Avenue as construction continues in the Highland Bridge development of the St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood on Friday, June 3, 2022. The University of St. Thomas has proposed changes to the Highland Bridge Master Plan which would allow a hockey arena, softball stadium and baseball stadium on Montreal and Cleveland avenues.

John Autey / Pioneer Press

“With the Ford plant or Highland Bridge, we’ve come a long way with that, and I think it’s still a fantastic place,” Esten said. “There would be a lot of community benefits and a lot of entertainment benefits. This development is going to be really dynamic. But when we started looking at the complexities and rising costs, it just wasn’t something we thought we could make work.

The rejection of this potential site comes about five months after the school made an unsolicited offer of more than $61 million for the Town and Country Club, a private golf course on a hill overlooking the river and downtown. city ​​of Minneapolis, a few blocks from the north side of the St. Thomas campus. The golf course quickly said no thank you.

According to Esten, there are challenges playing off-campus, as the Tommies currently do, so proximity to the majority of St. Thomas students is a priority when scouting for the next potential sports facility site.

“Right now we are looking at options. We haven’t landed on anything that I can say we’ve solidified,” he said. “We would prefer to stay in St. Paul and be as close to campus as possible. This is because we want the student-athlete experience to be as good as possible.

In their first season as the DI program, Tommies’ men played 14 of their 15 home games at St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights. The home of St. Thomas Academy and the Tommies when they played at the Division III level, officially seats about 800 and is a 15-minute drive from campus. The Tommies sold out a home game last winter, helped by a healthy contingent of Michigan Tech alumni in the Twin Cities who bought tickets to a 2-0 Huskies win. They were close to a sell off against Minnesota State rival Mankato and had two of their three wins at their home rink.

Hockey Coach Rico Blasi
Rico Blasi is presented with his own St. Thomas University hockey jersey by Athletic Director Phil Esten during a press conference at James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall on April 6, 2021 in St. Paul. Blasi was named the school’s first Division I hockey coach.

Liam James Doyle / St. Thomas University

They plan to play there for the next two seasons, at a minimum.

“We’ve had a great relationship with St. Thomas Academy and it looks like we’ll continue to work with the academy as we figure out what lies ahead,” Esten said.

He added that feedback from Tommies fans who came to Mendota Heights last winter was mostly positive, noting the increased speed and intensity of hockey in CCHA compared to MIAC, where they played. as part of a D-III program.

The Tommies played their first-ever home game as an DI program in St. Paul last October, drawing more than 4,000 players to the Xcel Energy Center for a 2-0 loss to St. Cloud State. While some have talked about using the lower bowl of the Wild’s rink as a temporary home while they build something, Esten said the school’s relationship with the NHL rink is in order, but Mendota Heights is their current home and they will consider games in the state’s premier hockey venue only on special occasions.

“We want home ice advantage,” Esten said. “If we think we can do something special and it can be an amazing event, it’s when you look somewhere like the Xcel Energy Center…but on a regular basis we want to create that ice advantage at home and we think we can do it at the Academy. This is where we train, this is where our dressing room is and where the players know it. And when you pack this place, it’s a tough place to play.

So for now, the Tommies are watching real estate options and watching the calendar. Esten admitted that time is running out if they want to find a site for their next home rink to be in a new building by the start of the 2025-26 campaign.

“When you save the schedule for construction, design, rights and everything else, it’s a process of about two to two and a half or three years. So we’re at a point right now where if we can proceed by January (of 2023), we’re looking at fall 25. And then every year that goes by, that pushes it back a year,” he said. declared. “We’re still on pace right now to be into something (new) by Fall 25 and we’re working really hard to figure out what that last option might be.”

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