By JANE MCCLURE
Plans for a Major League Soccer stadium and redeveloped Midway Center are poised for public comment after release Apr. 29 by the St. Paul Planning Commission. A community meeting is set for 7-8:30pm, Tue., June 7 at Buenger Library (275 Syndicate St. N.), Concordia University. The Planning Commission hosts a public hearing on the plans and a related zoning code amendment at 8:30am, Fri., June 10 at City Hall.
The 180-page stadium site plan and master plan for the block bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling, and University avenues are on a fast track for late summer City Council approval. The commission and council approvals will include an amendment to the city’s traditional neighborhoods zoning to allow the stadium to be built on the proposed site.
One big unknown that could halt the plans is what the 2016 Minnesota Legislature will do. Stadium site property tax exemptions and a liquor license request have been heard this spring by House and Senate committees. But as of Monitor deadline, none of the measures had passed. That has to happen before state lawmakers adjourn May 23.
Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire has made it clear that the stadium project cannot proceed without the tax breaks. Because the stadium is considered to be the long-awaited catalyst for Midway Center redevelopment, one project hinges upon the other.
Some members of the Snelling Midway Community Advisory Committee, who are to make a recommendation on the stadium site plan and superblock master plan May 26, are frustrated about other uncertainties. At its Apr. 28 meeting, committee members expressed unhappiness that plans continue to be fluid, not just for the shopping center but for parts of the stadium-related infrastructure.
Some committee members balked at a city Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED) report they were given as a draft Planning Commission recommendation. The report will be rewritten before the committee votes May 26.
An ambitious master plan unveiled earlier this year shows high-rise office buildings along Snelling Ave., with housing at University and Pascal. It also includes green spaces between University and the planned stadium, hotels and mixed-use buildings. Parking ramps would be built into the buildings. But drawings McGuire showed Apr. 28 looked less dense, with smaller buildings closer to the stadium. McGuire said the plans were concepts to show different design scenarios. He and city staff said that while the stadium needs to be built by 2018, shopping center redevelopment is on a longer and more uncertain timeline governed by everything from existing center leases to the economic climate for redevelopment.
“We’ve repeatedly said these are concepts,” McGuire said. He said the center is set for redevelopment, “but it cannot all happen in two years.”
While the soccer stadium, its infrastructure and a 300-space parking lot for team staff and select fans would be built in time for the start of the 2018 season, shopping center redevelopment has no set timeline. Existing leases and the need to relocate center tenants who wish to stay could mean gradual redevelopment, including the development of two green open spaces between the stadium and University Ave. “We’re not going to tell anyone to kick out a tenant if they’re not ready to go,” McGuire said.
“We’ve always assumed the development would be phased,” said Donna Drummond, planning director for PED. “We can’t make somebody build something. We don’t know how quickly redevelopment will happen here.”
If what is built differs greatly from the master plan, “this to me feels like a disappointing outcome,” said advisory committee co-chairman Eric Mohlo. He said community members have been asked to buy into a plan that may or may not happen.
“What happens if all we get is a stadium?’ said committee member and Hamline-Midway resident Jonathon Oppenheimer.
Others spoke of lost opportunities for jobs creation and tax base improvements if center development doesn’t happen as envisioned—or at all. Committee members said this was a chance to get longstanding neighborhood concerns about the shopping center, ranging from its appearance to the longstanding complaints about abandoned shopping carts in neighborhoods, addressed.
Several advisory committee members said that they want to hear more from New York-based center owner RK Midway. The center owner and representatives have only been at a few meetings, and McGuire has done most of the master plan presentations.
Another concern committee members raised is that past shopping center redevelopment plans haven’t materialized, and that generates questions about what will happen this time around. Committee member Becky Landon recalled lengthy debates several years ago over a later-shelved plan to replace the current Big Top Liquors building with a new liquor store and Walgreens. Neighbors wanted a more transit-friendly structure than what was proposed. She said the attitude seemed to be, “Well, you’re a developer, and you must know what you’re doing.”
Others said redevelopment is more likely than in the past. “For me, this feels more real than any other plan we’ve seen,” said advisory committee co-chairperson Julie Padilla. She said the stadium is a driver for redevelopment and an opportunity for change.
Transportation studies for the site were wrapping up as of Monitor deadline. A separate study group on jobs creation completed its work in late April and planned to release a report soon.
City Planner Josh Williams said that the potential environmental impacts of redevelopment, such as traffic, parking demand, noise and other issues, are under study in an Alternative Urban Areawide Review or AUAR. This study will give city officials and developers direction as to how to mitigate impacts of redevelopment. “The document binds the city and its project partners to make sure mitigation measures will get done,” Williams said. The draft AUAR is to be published in late May and released for a 30-day comment period.
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