Faculty, staff and alumni of St. Ambrose University hope a new campus sports complex will add to their university’s entire image, but residents fear the project could hurt their neighborhoods.
During a three-hour hearing Tuesday night, dozens of supporters and opponents of the proposed sports complex at the former St. Vincent’s Center property laid out their case in front of the city of Davenport’s Plan and Zoning Commission. The meeting was moved the the RiverCenter’s Great Hall to accommodate a crowd of about 400.
St. Ambrose wants to build a 2,500-seat stadium, a softball venue, soccer and practice fields as well as a 410-space parking lot on the 45-acre property at 800 W. Central Park Ave., three blocks north of the college.
The university and neighboring Assumption High School would share the football and softball fields and some of the practice facilities. Each school would likely host about five home football games per year.
St. Ambrose President Sister Joan Lescinski said high school student-athletes being recruited by the university consistently say they have better athletic facilities at their high schools, and she referenced Augustana College’s recently renovated Austin E. Knowlton Outdoor Athletic Complex.
“It’s essential to the university’s future,” she said.
During the hearing, city staff and university officials presented the rezoning application for the sports complex, including light, noise, stormwater, parking, traffic and property value studies. Outside engineering firms compiled the studies, except the one on property values, which was done by university staff.
Opponents of the rezoning also compiled their own research and said they still had major concerns regarding the same issues.
Betzy McCleland, who lives across from where the university wants to build the stadium’s parking lot, said it is not a good fit for the neighborhood.
“There is too much at stake here, and as many speakers pointed out, there is no margin for error in a long list of issues,” she said.
Jim Welch, a spokesman for the neighbors in the St. Vincent neighborhood, said the university’s decision to rezone only 31½ acres of the 45-acre property appeared be done to keep the protest rate at less than 20 percent of the area within a 200-foot range of the project.
A protest rate of 20 percent is required to trigger a super-majority vote of eight votes for approval by the Davenport City Council.
“The PID (Planned Institutional District) application is a mockery of the intention of the PID ordinance, if not the letter of the law,” Welch said.
Davenport resident Tim Fox, who has a son studying at St. Ambrose and a daughter who attends Assumption High School, said he was not sure if he was going to speak in support for the proposed stadium before the hearing, but eventually he did.
“We’re talking five to seven weekends out of the whole year,” he said. “It’s not going to impact traffic.”
Four current St. Ambrose softball players attended the meeting, even though they will have all graduated by the time a proposed stadium would be built.
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Junior Niki Green said St. Amrbose’s facilities cannot compete with other schools in the Midwest Collegiate Conference.
“We as a team have to go work on the field to prepare for a game,” Green said. “That shouldn’t have to happen.”
Supporters and opponents of the stadium also addressed the issue of tailgating.
Mike Poster, St. Ambrose vice president of finance, said alcohol will be permitted in the proposed stadium’s parking lot at least initially, but “we’re not going to let tailgating become a problem.”
When asked by Commissioner Susan Lammers, Poster said the university does not have a back-up plan if the application is denied.
As speakers in opposition to the stadium began to address the commission, dozens of the stadium’s supporters began to leave the Great Hall.
Jim Dexter, who lives at 1211 Garfield Court, Davenport, turned around during his speech and looked at the crowd and the many empty chairs and said, “Where did everybody go?”
“My neighbors are scared to death here,” said Dexter, whose son once pitched for the baseball team at St. Ambrose. “Because we’ve seen what happens as Ambrose creeps out. They need to do it right and not here.”
The commission is expected to vote on the application May 20.