Smaller than expected crowd turns out for public hearing on stadium


City Council poised to vote on stadium site plan Aug. 17; everyone still waiting for state legislature/governor to act


The St. Paul City Council is poised to vote Aug. 17 on the Major League Soccer stadium site plan, Midway Center redevelopment master plan, a technical zoning amendment allowing the stadium to move ahead, and plat changes tied to redevelopment.

A smaller-than-anticipated crowd turned out for the Aug. 3 public hearing.

Familiar objections centered on spillover parking, traffic, noise and lighting. But most attention focused on Midway Center owner Rick Birdoff, who addressed earlier reservations he’d raised about the ambitious master plan. Birdoff assured the council that center redevelopment will go ahead in conjunction with the stadium, but that it could take different forms than the master plan indicates—and will take time.

The council held three public hearings, one on each plan and a third hearing on a technical zoning amendment that will allow a sports stadium of 20,000 or more seats to be built in a traditional neighborhoods zoning district.

The Planning Commission recommended City Council approval of the stadium site plan and shopping center master plan July 10, following the June 8 public hearing.

The stadium plans are moving ahead without a needed property tax exemption from the Minnesota Legislature. As of July, Gov. Mark Dayton and House and Senate leaders were still discussing a special session, which would include action on the requested tax break. But as of Monitor deadline no session date had been set.

The St. Paul Planning Commission voted Aug. 5 for two technical variances to the property’s traditional neighborhoods zoning. The commission’s Zoning Committee had recommended on July 28 that they be approved.

A Planning Commission decision on the variances is final unless it is appealed to the City Council. City officials wantrf the variances adopted before the stadium site plan and shopping center master plan get voted on by the City Council Aug. 10.

Planning Commissioners said they understand the need for variances, but they are frustrated with the rushed process and piecemeal approach to stadium and Midway Center reviews. “These are very complex plans, and we haven’t had a lot of time to go through them,” said Commissioner Gaius Nelson.

The need for variances came up during the review of the stadium site plan and Midway Center master plan, said St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED) Planning Director Donna Drummond. The variances were then laid over for separate action, rather than postpone the stadium site plan and center master plan process.

The fast pace of the variances’ review and approval process frustrated some members of the Union Park District Council (UPDC). On July 18, the district council’s Economic Development and Land Use Committee discussed the variances. But with no city staff report to review, committee members said they didn’t have anything to act on.

“We really can’t do anything without a staff report,” said UPDC Executive Director Julie Reiter.

City planning staff had recommended approval of both variances, which are technical in nature. Both variances are for the 17-acre site eyed for the soccer stadium and adjacent amenities, on the southern part of the property. About 9.8 acres are the former Snelling bus garage property, owned by Metropolitan Council.

The remainder of the area is owned by Midway Center owner RK Midway. The soccer stadium site plan is considered to be the first phase of overall Midway Center redevelopment.

One variance is a floor area ratio (FAR) variance for the soccer stadium itself. FAR is the ratio of a building’s total or gross floor area to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built. St. Paul’s traditional neighborhoods zoning classifications have FAR requirements to encourage density. The ratio required for the stadium’s TN4 zoning and in an area near a light rail station is a minimum 1.0. The stadium is proposed to have a .19 FAR.

The second variance is for a parking lot at Pascal and St. Anthony avenues. The 164-space lot is to be used by the stadium and by retail space associated with team merchandising. One intent of TN zoning is to discourage the creation of stand-alone surface parking lots. A parking lot isn’t allowed as the primary use on a property unless the parking spaces shared amount multiple businesses or uses.

Tegra Group of Minneapolis, a real estate broker and advisory firm, filed the variance requests on behalf of Minneapolis United FC. Nate Pearson of Tegra Group said the FAR requirement isn’t a useful measurement for the 20,000-seat stadium. When calculated FAR for the stadium, only the enclosed part is used. Pearson also said that shared use of the parking lot is logical and that sharing of the spaces could be discussed as shopping center redevelopment continues.


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