University of St. Thomas announces $75 million donation toward new on-campus arena

An artist's rendering of the exterior of a sports arena
An artist's rendering of the exterior of the planned Lee and Penny Anderson Arena on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. The university announced Tuesday that the Andersons are donating $75 million toward construction of the facility.
Courtesy of University of St. Thomas
Updated: 2:20 p.m.

The University of St. Thomas has unveiled plans for a new basketball and hockey arena to be built on its St. Paul campus — boosted by a $75 million donation the school said is “the single largest monetary gift ever given to a Minnesota university.”

The planned Lee and Penny Anderson Arena is named after the donors, and also will be used for special events including commencement ceremonies. The $75 million donation goes toward a project estimated to cost $175 million.

a man speaks at a podium surrounded by people
Lee Anderson spoke at a campus announcement at the University of St. Thomas on Tuesday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Lee Anderson said he hopes his family’s donation of $75 million for a new hockey and basketball arena will make both the University of St. Thomas and St. Paul a destination. He spoke at a campus announcement Tuesday.

Jade Hill is a sophomore elementary education major at St. Thomas and a guard on the university's women's basketball team. She also was on hand for Tuesday's announcement.

Hill said she’s sorry she’ll graduate before the arena opens, but she said it will have a lasting impact on the school and its athletic programs.

“For incoming people that are committing here, I think that’s going to be huge,” she said. “And that's really going to take our university to the next level of recruiting and (be) something we can brag about. Like, ‘this is what we’re building here. This is what we’re all about here at St. Thomas.”

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An artist's rendering of the interior of a sports arena
An artist's rendering of the planned Lee and Penny Anderson Arena on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, set up for a hockey game. The arena would also be used for basketball and special events.
Courtesy of University of St. Thomas

The university said it aims to break ground on the site — on the west side of Cretin Avenue and south of Summit Avenue — in 2024, with a goal of opening in fall 2025.

“This is about more than just hockey and basketball games — this is a gift that will be transformative for our entire St. Paul campus, enhance the experience of our students, and raise visibility for the university as a whole,” St. Thomas President Rob Vischer said in a news release. “It also creates a new community and economic asset for the Twin Cities, the state of Minnesota, and the region.”

Lee Anderson expanded the APi group, a major construction and engineering firm based in New Brighton, into a multibillion dollar business. The Andersons previously donated $60 million to the University of St. Thomas in 2007, which was used to build the Anderson Student Center, Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex and Anderson Parking Facility.

A map showing the location of a planned sports arena
A map showing the location of the planned Lee and Penny Anderson Arena on the campus of the University of St. Thomas.
Courtesy of University of St. Thomas

The arena announcement comes after St. Thomas athletics moved from NCAA Division III to Division I competition in recent years.

St. Thomas' women's and men's hockey teams currently play at the St. Thomas Ice Arena at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights. The school's basketball teams currently play at Schoenecker Arena on campus.

“Higher education is one of the world’s most important institutions because it truly has an ability to have a positive impact on the world, and the world needs St. Thomas’ students and graduates. For the first time ever, Minnesotans have a private university option for D-I caliber education and athletics and we’re proud to be part of making this vision a reality for young people in Minnesota and beyond,” Lee Anderson said in a news release.

The plan calls for tearing down three buildings on campus, including the historic Cretin Residence Hall. Neighbors fought demolition of the similar Loras Hall for new academic construction now underway.

Neighbors are already apprehensive about the project, which St. Thomas hinted at last year. Noelle Jacquet-Morrison, co-chair of the West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Council, said many people in the area are wary of the potential traffic, environmental and housing impacts of another major development project at the university. She said her group is planning to convene a Jan. 24 listening session to gather more information about the project.