By JANE MCCLURE
Spillover parking into adjacent neighborhoods and worsening traffic congestion are among the fears community members have about a $150 million Major League Soccer stadium and a redeveloped Midway Center. Community members finally got to question Mayor Chris Coleman and project leaders at a Mar. 15 open house at Concordia University. And, on Mar. 21, Union Park District Council (UPDC) Land Use Committee members met with city staff to review plans.
Though a formal stadium groundbreaking wouldn’t happen until this summer, crews are already doing site work. The soccer stadium would occupy much of the former Metro Transit Snelling bus garage site and land now occupied by Rainbow Foods and other center businesses. Midway Centre owner RK Midway owns the rest of the 34.5-acre superblock bounded by Pascal St. and University, Snelling and St. Anthony avenues. RK Midway has unveiled plans that would put high-rise offices, retail, a movie theater, restaurants, housing and hotels on its property.
While there is excitement about redevelopment, many neighbors have concerns about how the area will handle 20,000 soccer fans coming to games. Some pointed out that they now get to deal with more construction and congestion after Green Line light rail and Snelling Bridge and street reconstruction.
And if area residents and business owners are frustrated, so are members of the Snelling Midway Community Advisory Committee. Members are questioning how they are supposed to weigh in with such tight project timelines, and a lack of new information.
Other issues raised range from bird safety in stadium design to access for people with disabilities. Those advocates were reassured that their concerns would be addressed. But the $18+ million city subsidy for soccer infrastructure and other needs, and Minnesota United’s quest for a property tax and sales tax exemptions at the 2016 Minnesota Legislature, also drew protests. Hamline Midway resident and 2015 City Council candidate Tom Goldstein held up a sign stating “Want Soccer? Build More Parks, Not Stadiums” and debated with Coleman about subsidies. Merriam Park resident Mike Madden’s sign said, “I pay my taxes.”
Tim Mangan lives in Snelling Park, a tiny neighborhood bounded by Pascal and Marshall, Snelling and Concordia avenues. Residents use Pascal as their route in and out. “No one’s coming to us to address our concerns,” he said. “You’re going to shut down my only egress. Where are all those people going to go?”
Sandy Vincent and Billy Todd live on Sherburne Ave. which already has spillover Green Line commuter parking and parking spillover from the Turf Club. Vincent said she is going to start a residential permit parking petition because of the problems. “I don’t know where they think 20,000 people coming to games are going to park,” Vincent said.
Nan Fergen, who lives one block off of Snelling near Hamline University, said her neighborhood already deals with parking issues. “Traffic in the last five years has been horrible. What relief do we get?”
Coleman told the 150-plus people at the Mar. 15 meeting that the city is studying traffic and parking issues and will work with the community to resolve those. He said the intent of redevelopment is to have the stadium and shopping center redevelopment blend into the fabric of the surrounding neighborhoods. The intent is not to create what the mayor described as a “state fair” atmosphere.
The projects’ impacts are being studied in an Alternative Urban Areawide Review (AUAR), said Josh Williams, senior planner with the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED). The initial scoping phase of the AUAR closed Mar. 23. Scoping identified different development plans to analyze.
The AUAR process studies issues such as traffic, parking, transit, light, noise, air quality and other impacts that could be tied to redevelopment. “The AUAR is meant to look at a project’s impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts,” Williams said. The draft document is to be published in late May and will be the focus of a meeting in June. State agencies then weigh in with their comments. The final document should be compiled by mid-July.
While there are questions about the rapid pace of stadium development, the flip side are worries on how long Midway Center redevelopment could take. UPDC Land Use Committee Member David Rasmussen said he’s concerned about how long it will take to redevelop the shopping center itself, and the prospect of an empty lot in the meantime.
But Williams said while some redevelopment, such as the planned plazas along University Ave., will be built with the stadium, the city’s power in approving a master plan for the shopping center doesn’t include requiring the developer to meet a timeline.
Other reviews are also underway. The engineering consulting firm SRF is conducting a traffic study, which will be ready in this month. Metro Transit is looking at transit capacity of Green Line light rail, regular route bus service and A Line rapid bus service which starts in June.
Another frustration for some community members is how quickly the review and approval processes are moving, and how the review processes are overlapping each other.
Minnesota United wants to start playing soccer here in 2018. The St. Paul Planning Commission is expected to see the stadium site plan and the master plan for the rest of the superblock this spring, with a public hearing in May. Recommendations then go to the St. Paul City Council by mid-July or August, with final votes on each plan.
The studies will consider existing streets and not the possibility of connecting Ayd Mill Road at its north end, said Williams. He also said that by the end of April, city staff and community members should have a better idea of the overall project impacts. But the complexity of who is responsible for which aspects of development, and the conceptual nature and lack of a timeline for shopping center redevelopment, are frustrating.
UPDC Executive Director Julie Reiter said “We don’t know how a transportation study can be done if we don’t know where the cars are going,” she said.
Parking for soccer is the responsibility of Minnesota United and not the city. Where people park for soccer games and stadium events could change over time, so the transportation and transit issues are being studied in that context. Williams said because the shopping center redevelopment is likely to take place over a period of many years, where people park for games and events could change.
Shuttles and off-site parking are already being studied, Williams said. “We don’t have enough capacity to carry everyone on the buses to the train at the same time, and we certainly don’t want everyone to drive to the games,” he said. Short-term ideas include remote lots and shuttles, including the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
Funding the soccer stadium is complicated
Tax exemptions, $18.4 million for infrastructure, 52-year lease, and Tax Increment Financing all in the mix
By JANE MCCLURE
With development agreements, a lease and an $18.4 million infrastructure commitment in place, the proposed Minnesota United FC stadium plans are moving ahead toward an anticipated June groundbreaking and 2018 completion.
But getting agreement on the financing package, and a disagreement over future tax increment financing (TIF) for Midway Center redevelopment, roiled the St. Paul City Council in March. The council approved the stadium subsidies on 5-2 votes Mar. 2, and shot down the notion of banning a future TIF district 3-4 on Mar. 23.
The stadium project now rests in the hands of the 2016 Minnesota Legislature. State lawmakers are being asked to provide an ongoing exemption from paying property taxes on the stadium site and any improvements. A construction materials sales tax exemption is also sought, as is a liquor license. One potentially tricky procedural issue is that because last year’s session ended without a tax bill passed, any stadium request will have to be added to the stalled 2015 tax bill.
If the exceptions aren’t passed, City Finance Director Todd Hurley said the stadium agreements are terminated.
The $150 million Major League Soccer stadium construction and maintenance would be privately funded. The almost 150 pages of documents that are part of the agreements don’t cover all details of the planned mixed-use redevelopment of the entire 34.5 acre Midway Center superblock, which is bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling, and University avenues. But Minnesota FC owner Bill McGuire and Rick Birdoff of the shopping center ownership group RK Midway have said the stadium is the catalyst for the long-awaited center redevelopment. Birdoff also issued a statement after the Council vote saying he is working with Rainbow Foods owner Supervalu to find space on the site for a relocated grocery store.
Lengthy debate at the Mar. 2 St. Paul City Council meeting preceded votes on the agreements. A full house of project proponents looked on, including many young soccer players, as well as foes of public subsidy for sports facilities. The council split 5-2, with Dan Bostrom and Jane Prince against and Amy Brendmoen, Rebecca Noecker, Russ Stark, Dai Thao and Chris Tolbert in support.
Bostrom said it’s concerning when the city has so many other unmet needs and is making cutbacks in areas including public safety, that stadium infrastructure funding moves to the front of the line. “Yet for other neighborhood projects we cannot get a dime.”
But other council members said the city has considered the potential risks and needs to take advantage of the opportunity to bring soccer here. Stark said that while the proposal does have risks, those are “greatly outweighed” by the benefits the stadium would bring. As to concerns about parking, Stark said that providing a lot of on-site parking would simply encourage more people to drive to the stadium.
Opponents said the project is moving too quickly and that the impacts on the surrounding community haven’t been fully explored.
“I-94 and Snelling are already very congested, and I don’t know why we’d want to put any more congestion there,” said Hamline-Midway resident Claire Press. She also questioned how the neighborhood, which has years of street and light rail construction, would get through another two years of stadium construction.
But supporters cited the spinoff economic development potential, jobs creation, the possibility of youth soccer stadium use and the convenience of having soccer games in the community as benefits. “We have the opportunity here to really transform the Midway,” said Midway Chamber Board Chairman Jeff Fenske. He said the stadium would bring new jobs and new businesses, and revitalize the area.
The Mar. 2 council vote sealed the lease and financing agreements, as well as the development and stadium use pacts. The lease between the city and Metropolitan Council for the bus barn property is for 52 years. The club will pay the city, and then the city will pay the council $556,623.96 per year.
Minnesota FC will also pay to maintain areas such as sidewalks and green space. It won’t pay city right-of-way maintenance assessments.
The city will build infrastructure including streets, sidewalks, bike lanes, green space, and utilities. Of these costs, storm sewers are the biggest piece at $3.07 million. Public green space would cost $2 million. These items will be built to city standard design. Wider sidewalks as proposed would have to be covered by Minnesota FC, and on shopping center land by RK Midway.
The city will cover about $16.9 million of its $18.4 million commitment with revenue from $285,000 from the parking fund and four different tax increment financing (TIF) districts. The TIF contributions include about $7.1 million from the pending sale of the Penfield mixed-use building downtown.
The remaining $1.5 million is to be covered by state and federal grants the city is seeking. The agreements contain many other details, on everything from allowing Minnesota United FC to rename the Snelling light rail station to not allowing stadium use by gun shops, vendors of adult-only materials, pawn shops or “any so-called head shop.” There is a condition that ethnic food vendors be in the mix of stadium vendors after it opens. Another condition calls for outreach to youth sports programs but doesn’t contain specifics. There is also language about meeting affordable ticket goals. But details were left blank.
On Mar. 23, Noecker, Bostrom and Price attempted to block any future Midway Center TIF district. Noecker pointed out that there have already been significant investments in light rail and bus transit, and that the stadium developers have already asked for property tax and sale tax exemptions.
Noecker said sending the message now that TIF isn’t available would “take it off the table early.” She said that future financial scenarios for the project could include a “TIF-shaped gap” that the city would be expected to fill. And, she pointed out, that if the stadium is supposed to catalyze redevelopment as its backers contend, TIF may not be needed.
But other council members said the option to use TIF for shopping center redevelopment should be preserved. Thao was visibly angry about the idea of taking TIF away, citing the rate of poverty in his ward and the need for redevelopment. The shopping center is in his district. “At the heart of the matter, you taking away a tool for development from a community that needs it the most,” Thao said.
“You’re not doing this for the people,” Thao said to Noecker. “You’re doing this for yourself.”
The motion to block a future TIF failed, 3-4
RK Midway, the owner of the center, hasn’t applied for TIF.