A massive loon taking flight – the emblem of the Minnesota United soccer team – will soon land at the corner of University and Snelling avenues in St. Paul.
The loon statue, a permanent installation measuring some 35 feet tall with wings spread 90 feet across, is expected to anchor a new sculpture garden at the northwest edge of United Village, the 35 to 40 acre “super block” that is currently home to the Allianz Field soccer stadium, a drive-through/walk-up McDonald’s and not much else.
The giant loon, which is being crafted by Glasgow sculptor Andy Scott, has been commissioned and privately funded by the McGuire Family Foundation – the same foundation behind Gold Medal Park in downtown Minneapolis – to capture the energy of the soccer team and the cultural underpinnings of the state itself.
In renderings, the hotel and restaurant pavilion are visible behind it. Dr. Bill McGuire said site grading has already begun, and he’s hopeful the massive bird lands in place next spring.
McGuire said in a press release that he was inspired by Scott’s signature work, “The Kelpies” – two massive Clydesdale horse structures in Falkirk, Scotland – which still draw visitors by the thousands a decade after opening.
The artist began working on a prototype loon statue a year ago last September, he said.
Beyond the statue itself, the overall real estate development vision, scaled down considerably since the master planning process unfolded in 2016, no longer calls for residences, at least not in the first phase of development, or towers of office and co-working spaces, let alone a movie theater, as once tentatively proposed.
It’s been enough, however, to spark some hope in frustrated neighborhood and St. Paul City Hall officials, who watched with dismay as the pandemic, rioting following the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and then the redevelopment group itself eliminated some 30 small businesses from the former Midway Shopping Center.
New tax district
A flurry of year-end actions set the stage for the United Village development by Allianz Field to move forward. A new tax increment financing (TIF) district for the block around Allianz Field and a development agreement with Snelling Midway LLC won a 5-1 vote of approval Dec. 13, 2023 from the St. Paul City Council, acting as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) Board.
The new TIF district replaces a previous district. The new district provides financial assistance pledged up to $13 million generated by development on five parcels of the site.
The HRA also approved a $4 million TIF loan and a related budget amendment. This TIF comes from other TIF districts throughout the city, and has been drawn on for several other development projects.
Ward 7 Council Member Jane Prince voted against the financial package, saying she hadn’t had time to review it. Council President Amy Brendmoen recused herself because her husband Mike Hahm is a project consultant.
Ward 4 Council Member Mitra Jalali raised several questions about the proposal, asking about work with community-based businesses as well as when the site will have housing built. Housing isn’t part of the first development phase.
St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development Director Nicolle Goodman said they are still working on how the new development could provide affordable commercial space. It is something the city hasn’t done before. “We’ll have to figure out, what does that look like?” Goodman said.
Ward 1 Council Member Russel Balenger said residents of his ward are excited and look forward to development at the site.
The Snelling-Midway redevelopment site is an approximately 34.5 acres, occupied for many years by Midway Center, other office and commercial buildings, and a Metro Transit bus garage. Although the development wheels began turning in 2014, a master plan won approval in 2016 and the stadium opened in 2019, the lack of development has frustrated many neighbors.
TIF allows a developer to use added tax value or increments gained through development to pay for site improvements such as streets and utilities.
The changes were sought to move forward the first phase of site development near University and Snelling. This includes a 160-room hotel with an attached 320-stall parking ramp, which will provide parking for the hotel, restaurants, stadium attendees and other surrounding uses. Also planned are a park, a sculpture plaza, an 80,000 square foot office building with ground floor retail and underground parking and a restaurant pavilion which will provide space for two new restaurants.
The council in December also approved an interim use parking permit for a lot on the east side of the property, which was used until mid-2020 by remaining Midway Center businesses. The permit allows its use for five years.
Yet another council approval in December was for $80,000 to pay for water service to add a drinking fountain for the all-abilities park on Pascal Street. It is covered through the Ward One Neighborhood Sales Tax Revitalization (STAR) funds.