by Robin Huiras

The University women’s soccer program took another step toward its goal of a new stadium when, last week, it received the last of the money it needs to begin construction.
But neighbors of the proposed site hope to block that goal.
In addition to the state Legislature’s $1.2 million allocation for women’s athletics, a private contributor’s recent donation of $900,000 increased the pool of money enough to begin construction of the facility.
A University planning committee suggested the new stadium be built over the existing women’s soccer field at Larpenteur and Cleveland avenues in Falcon Heights. But residents living and working next to the field believe the facility would present problems because of its size.
A task force comprised of Falcon Heights community leaders and University officials is exploring the potential impact on the neighborhood surrounding the proposed stadium. In the meantime, alternative sites are being considered.
“Members of the community want to see a facility built,” said task force chairman John Hustad, “but just not here.”
Legally, the residents of the community have no leverage or authority to stop the construction since the site is on University property. But voicing their concerns has impacted the University’s decision-making processes.
Slated to begin following the end of the 1998 season, construction will be pushed back if a site is not agreed upon. The original plan called for completion by the beginning of the 1999 season, said Tim Busse, communications specialist for Facilities Management.
The task force also addresses residents concerns over adequate parking, traffic flow, noise and aesthetics of the edifice. In addition, they consider long-term effects of the land use and the appropriateness of the site in relation to the surrounding properties.
Citing decreasing property value and increased noise, residents of a 93-unit condominium and the 102 homes close to the site want the University to look for alternatives.
Formed in 1993, the planning committee aimed to improve the women’s soccer facility. Originally, the plan did not include a stadium-type facility, said Susan Hoyt, Falcon Heights city administrator.
Community concern grew, she added, when the University changed its plan without consulting community representatives.
Minnesota’s constitution gives the Board of Regents exclusive land use authority. Because the University owns the proposed site property and area in the surrounding neighborhoods, the residents cannot directly influence decisions the University chooses to make, Hoyt said.
Originally scheduled for review in May, the Board of Regents removed the discussion from the table, said Steve Bosacker, the board’s executive director.
“The issue will be brought up in the future as new business, but the University wants to do further research and explore other options,” he added.
Busse said examining alternative sites tops the list of options. The problem persists in locating enough open space to accommodate a facility of this nature.
Always interested in being a good neighbor, the University is making a serious effort to work with the community, Hustad added.
“Many of the residents are closely associated with the University community, and want to be involved in the process,” Hustad said.
Although concerned about the viability of the proposed site, community members expressed support for women’s soccer.
“The task force members and city council are pleased to see women’s soccer taking off at the U of M,” Hoyt said.
Women’s soccer became a varsity sport at the University in the fall of 1993. The team’s open playing field seats 800 spectators.
Although regular game attendance in 1997 averaged 550 spectators, the proposed facility could accommodate up to 1,500 fans.
“We believe that 1,000 seats is what we need now and will serve our purposes well in the future,” said Donna Olson, senior associate athletic director in women’s athletics.
But Hustad said it doesn’t make sense to cram a stadium into the size of the existing space.
Olson said women’s soccer needs the stadium to remain competitive both at the local and national levels, as well as to give the athletes an appropriate playing arena.
“It’s important for us to have a facility as soon as possible. We’ve waited six years,” Olson said.