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Construction of a new campus hockey and basketball arena at the University of St. Thomas has been paused for at least another week after neighbors challenged the city's approval of the project.

While the zoning committee of the St. Paul Planning Commission on Thursday recommended that neighbors' appeal be denied, St. Thomas officials said Friday they plan to wait to resume work until at least after next Friday's meeting of the full commission.

"We will re-evaluate it then," said Jerome Benner, director of neighborhood and community relations for St. Thomas.

Donn Waage, a spokesman for the arena opponents group Advocates for Responsible Development, said project opponents plan to take their appeal to the full Planning Commission and then to the St. Paul City Council, if necessary. Neighbors are also challenging the project in court.

They believe the city erred in requiring a less-stringent environmental assessment worksheet before approving the project, Waage said. Neighbors worry that traffic from thousands of fans attending arena events — combined with an increase in traffic from the city's new Highland Bridge development to the south — will lead to gridlock and a dangerous increase in greenhouse gases.

"Our court case is to fight the inadequacy of the environmental assessment worksheet, and the court has to respond to that issue before July 11th. That's focused more on greenhouse gases," Waage said.

"However, when there's a site plan issued, it's also supposed to conform to city policy like the 2040 plan and the city's climate resilience plan. But it seems like the city is far more focused on highly technical issues."

Phil Esten, a university vice president and the school's athletic director, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday. But in an email he sent April 28 to alumni and university supporters, he called the construction of the arena "a critical component to our future success as we fully transition to Division I and sustain success well into the future. It will provide resources for student-athletes, high-end experiences for fans, incremental resources for our department and another anchor for student and community activity on our campus."

He touted St. Thomas' economic benefits to St. Paul, pointed out that the university is not asking for a variance and is "building within the rules and within our campus boundaries."

Regarding the environmental impact of the arena, he wrote: "St. Thomas cares deeply about the environment and about its responsibility to care for the river. The review of the impact on the environment by the city was thorough."

The $183.4 million Lee and Penny Anderson Arena is being built on St. Thomas' south campus and will be the dual-purpose home of the university's hockey and basketball programs, with seating for up to 5,500 fans.

Before the pause in construction in mid-April, it was expected to be completed in August 2025 — "just in time for the hockey and basketball seasons," according to the university's website.

A number of potential sites were explored, including the Highland Bridge development at the former Ford plant site and the nearby Town and Country Club. The school approached the country club a couple of years ago but was rebuffed. The arena will be located next to the Anderson parking facility, and away from Goodrich Avenue.

On Friday, Bob Medwed, whose girlfriend lives about a block away, was walking his dog on Goodrich just south of the arena site and St. Thomas' soccer and softball fields. Signs in every front yard on the block read "Just Say No" to the arena. Medwed said his girlfriend has a sign as well.

"It's really primarily about traffic and gridlock," he said, noting that Cretin Avenue is the only nearby thoroughfare to carry the expected traffic.

Julia DeBroux, a university senior and a marketing intern for St. Thomas athletics, said her job is to get students to attend games. A campus arena would be a benefit to student life and may decrease traffic, she said. St. Thomas' hockey team now plays at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, where students must drive or take a shuttle to watch games.

"I think it would actually be a really great piece for student life here," DeBroux said. "St. Thomas has the connotation of being a suitcase campus. And I think with an arena here, that's another activity for students to do here without having to be bused."