St. Ambrose University and Assumption High School have agreed to discuss development of a sports complex, a university official confirmed Tuesday night.
The news came on the eve of a special Davenport City Council meeting to overturn Mayor Bill Gluba’s veto of the university's stadium initiative.
Mike Poster, the vice president for finance at St. Ambrose, said the university has a memorandum of understanding with Assumption that the two schools could discuss “a potential development agreement” if Gluba’s veto of rezoning for the St. Vincent Center property stands.
Aldermen have scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. today on the veto.
But the mayor and some aldermen think the university is making a power play to get one of the aldermen who voted against the rezoning to change his vote.
“It’s a last ditch effort to put pressure on aldermen and I don’t think it’s going to work,” Gluba said Tuesday night.
Two of the aldermen who have voted against the project, Barney Barnhill, 5th Ward, and Ray Ambrose, 4th Ward, said Tuesday they are not changing their vote. The other two aldermen who have voted against the plan, Mike Matson, 7th ward, and Rick Dunn, 1st Ward, could not be reached for comment.
“At the end of the day, I can’t see it changing the vote at all,” Barnhill said Tuesday. "I’ve already talked to my colleagues.”
“It’s not going to change my vote,” Ambrose said. “It’s all about leverage.”
Poster said the university has met every demand presented by the city and neighbors for construction of a 2,500-seat stadium and other facilities at the St. Vincent Center.
“The city staff has approved it; the city council has approved it; we met or exceeded every requirement, and there are 23 conditions on it that we also have to meet,” Poster said Tuesday.
“We’re disappointed with where we are at this time. This is a contingency plan in case the veto is not overturned."
Poster said the university continues "to have discussions with people about why this is important."
“There are sewer and stormwater problems in the area and we’re offering the best deal for all involved. But we needed another option should the veto not be overturned,” he said.
According to a memo issued June 4 by City Administrator Craig Malin, based on the current city ordinance, Assumption High School, which is adjacent to the 45-acre site St. Ambrose wants to develop, could build an athletic complex there without having to go through a zoning change.
Under Davenport zoning ordinances, schools are an allowed use within residential zoning, and that includes athletic facilities.
St. Ambrose has applied to have the zoning for the St. Vincent Center changed from a moderate density dwelling district to a planned institutional district. Aldermen passed the measure by a vote of 6-4 on July 9, but Gluba vetoed the measure July 16. Aldermen have 30 days, or until Friday, to overturn the veto.
“It’s an incredibly important addition to us,” Poster said of the stadium complex. “As we recruit students and athletes, not having high-quality athletic facilities is detrimental to us. That’s why we feel we need a contingency plan.”
A representative of Assumption High School could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Alderman Gene Meeker, at large, who has voted and lobbied for the complex, said that if St. Ambrose and Assumption come to some type of accord, the stadium could end up with 3,500 or 5,000 seats.
“Assumption could build this project on the St. Ambrose property without city approval other than the usual building permits and usual inspections,” Meeker said.
Gluba said that regardless of the city ordinance, he will see about having the Iowa Attorney General’s Office review the law and determine if there is any way to block Assumption from taking over the development.
“I think it’s unfortunate that St. Ambrose would try to muscle the stadium into the neighborhood like that,” Gluba said. “There is a good possibility the neighbors could pool their funds and hire an attorney to see what the courts think of the issue.
“If the veto is overridden, we lose,” he said. “If Assumption takes over the project, we lose. We may as well go to the mat and stand our ground and see where it all goes. We’ll resist to the very end.
Gluba added that the $25 million St. Ambrose wants to spend on the complex would be better spent in the academic curriculum. “Society does not need any more football players. Going to college is about being prepared for the future and getting an education and a job. There are needy kids that the school could provide scholarships to so they can get an education.”
Ambrose said that as a Catholic, he is seeing the issue divide the Catholic community. If St. Ambrose chooses to let Assumption build the project, “it would just continue the bad public relations. But, that’s their prerogative.
“I think the neighbors have a legitimate concern,” he added. “No one has said they don’t support St. Ambrose having a stadium. But to plop it in their neighborhood like that with the stadium lights and all those events. Ambrose is looking out for tis self-interest and I think that’s selfish.”
Barnhill said that, “St. Ambrose will have a stadium somewhere. They do have other options. If we sustain the mayor’s veto, and I think that’s going to happen, they have other options.”