The University Of St. Thomas Receives Record $75 Million Gift

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The University of St. Thomas, a private, Catholic university located in St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota, has announced that it has received the largest gift in its more than 135-year history – a $75 million donation from Lee and Penny Anderson of Naples, Florida.

The gift will be used to construct a multi-use, on-campus arena in St. Paul for the university’s Division-I men’s and women’s hockey and basketball programs.

According to the university’s news release, not only is the Anderson donation the largest gift in the history of St. Thomas, it’s the largest monetary gift ever given to a Minnesota university.

The University of St. Thomas, whose enrollment of more than 9,000 students makes it the largest private college in Minnesota, is planning to break ground on the new facility in 2024, with a target opening of Fall 2025. It’s working with design-build specialists Ryan Companies and Crawford Architects on the construction of the facility with a projected total cost of $175 million. In addition to games and concerts, the arena will host commencement ceremonies, academic convocations, career fairs and other events.

“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,” said St. Thomas President Rob Vischer, who was appointed president of the university in January of this year, after serving as dean of its law school since 2013.

“This gift is like jet fuel for our journey to becoming a national Catholic university, and the arena it makes possible will shape the St. Thomas experience going forward, positively impacting students, families, and entire communities for generations to come,” added Vischer.

The Andersons are the university’s largest donors. They previously made a $60-million donation in 2007 for the Anderson Student Center, the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex, and the Anderson Parking Facility.

The gift comes after St. Thomas officially transitioned in 2021 from a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-III institution directly to Division-I, apparently making it the only college in the modern era to make that leap for all its intercollegiate sports. Its athletic teams now compete in the Summit League, the Pioneer Football League, the Women’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

The move to Division I is part of the university’s strategic plan to “advance to the level of excellence, impact and reputation that distinguishes the top 10 national Catholic universities.”

“For 138 years, St. Thomas has demonstrated commitment to excellence in all that it does, and this arena shows that same commitment to our Division-I transition,” said Phil Esten, St. Thomas Vice President for Athletics. “Tommie hockey and basketball compete in some of the country’s best conferences, and this new arena will provide practice, competition and fan experiences expected of a Division-I program. This gift helps St. Thomas to continue its upward trajectory in athletics and as an institution.”

A jump to Division I can be an expensive proposition. In addition to facility upgrades, there are more athletic scholarships, larger coaching staffs, greater recruiting expenses and additional travel costs. I asked Esten how St. Thomas intended to pay for the increased expenses, and he told me that a combination of increased game-day revenues, media rights and private philanthropy were key components. In addition, the university will tap $15 million in quasi-endowment funds over five years, and it’s phasing in a student athletics fee to help generate additional financial support.

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A native of Minneapolis, Lee Anderson graduated from West Point in 1961 with a major in civil engineering. He was the owner and chairman of the Minnesota-based API Group Inc., a holding company for several construction and fire-protection firms. Anderson also owned a number of banks in Minnesota, which he sold in 1997 to Norwest Corporation, which later merged with Wells Fargo in 1998.

In addition to their gifts to the Univeristy of St. Thomas, the Andersons have been major philanthropists for children’s health, higher education, and military veterans.

Of their record donation, Lee Thomas had this to say: “St. Thomas has a higher calling in that it develops graduates who are leaders with high-moral character who believe strongly in the mission to serve the common good. These are the kinds of leaders the world needs now more than ever.”



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