By JANE MCCLURE
The Allianz Field Major League Soccer stadium will bring many changes to its surrounding community when it opens for games in 2019. Managing that change and leveraging redevelopment and community amenities could become key parts of a planned community benefits fund.
More than 70 people attended a Nov. 28 meeting with City Council members Mitra Nelson and Dai Thao to discuss what such an agreement could mean, and what a related community benefits fund could support.
Their suggestions, and suggestions gathered in an ongoing online survey, will be used to shape goals for the fund. Participants weighed in on display boards and met in small groups at MidPointe Events Center, just northeast of Allianz Field. They discussed issues including their hopes for redevelopment, potential challenges arising from Allianz Field and a redeveloped Midway Center, and ideas for neighborhood projects and initiatives that a fund could support.
Hearing ideas is critical to the success of a community benefits fund, the council members said. “We want to make sure that the team and the city are committed to an agreement that works for the entire community,” Thao said.
“If we proactively define our vision (for the agreement), the stronger it will be over time,” said Nelson.
The task force hopes to have a report completed and ready in January, said Hamline Midway Coalition board member Mike Reynolds. He is one of the task force members. Others involved in the task force said they intend to create a fund that has long-lasting impacts for the surrounding neighborhoods and to make sure it is something that can be easily accessed.
One new wrinkle in the stadium debate is the recent announcement that the University of St. Thomas-St. John’s University football game, known as the Tommie-Johnnie game, will be played at Allianz Field in 2019. Previous discussions indicated that stadium use would be restricted, with events such as concerts not held there because of the potential to damage the natural turf.
The notion of a community benefits agreement and related fund have been discussed since Minnesota United FC announced plans in 2016 to build the stadium on the former Metro Transit bus garage and Midway Center sites. The City Council in August 2016 passed a resolution committing to community benefits at the Snelling-Midway redevelopment site, with the support of Minnesota United and Midway Center owner RK Midway. Other references to a community benefits agreement are also in various development-related agreements between the city and the soccer team.
Some aspects of the 2016 agreement have already been in play, including goals for hiring of women and minorities during stadium construction, and having a central point of contact for communication about construction issues. Other parts of the agreement call for youth sports and community events at Allianz Field and hiring of local vendors and workers when the stadium opens.
One part of the 2016 resolution called for a task force to help develop a community benefits fund. The task force began meeting over the summer with Union Park District Council, Hamline Midway Coalition, Minnesota United, RK Midway, city officials, and other stakeholder groups. With the help of Macalester College interns, agreements in other cities were studied.
Who contributes to the fund, how it is governed and what funds will be used for, are recommendations the task force is working on. While there’s a focus on using some funding to mitigate neighborhood issues tied to stadium events such as traffic, parking, transit, and pedestrian safety issues, others focus on promoting brick-and-mortar development. Another idea proposed is that of using the fund to promote the development of new and emerging community leaders.
Support for small businesses and immigrant-owned businesses, and ways to mitigate the displacement of businesses and residents, emerged as key issues at the Nov. 28 meeting. Some speakers raised fears of gentrification, with one man noting that some area business employees sleep in their vehicles because they cannot afford housing. The need for more affordable and market-rate housing was discussed. Part of the Midway center master plan calls for housing at the southwest corner of University Ave. and Pascal St.
Several people brought up the need to help small, Mom and Pop businesses come to the neighborhood or to relocate when they can no longer afford to be in the area. A related idea is to find ways to promote local businesses to those who attend Allianz Field events.
Several people also asked that the stadium and its two adjacent green spaces have year-round programming for events such as festivals, farmers’ markets, and sports.
Another focus sought is on youth, to promote activities as well as employment for young people.
Hamline-Midway resident Erin Pryor Pavlicka asked if the fund could be used to help support local recreation centers and their programs, with a focus on the Hancock Recreation Center. “It (Hancock) could use some attention,” she said.
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