Will ground break soon for United Villages?

New plans being reviewed by neighborhood councils; clean-up to start first

Long-awaited redevelopment of the area around Allianz Field could get underway soon. Getting shovels in the ground requires several steps, which are under review by Hamline Midway Coalition and Union Park District Council. Coalition members got their first look at the plans July 25, 2023, with Union Park board members starting their review Aug. 2.
A 170-room hotel and parking facilities, four-story retail/office building, restaurant pavilion, playground and sculpture plaza are the latest plans for the 34.5-acre superblock, which is bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. While those additions may be some time in the future, other steps are moving ahead. 
Community members could see park and open space changes as soon as spring 2024.
Parkland dedication and preliminary plat changes go to the St. Paul City Council in September, following St. Paul Parks and Recreation Commission approval in July. Plat approval is needed to lay out development blocks and streets in the northern part of the superblock. Platting a property in St. Paul triggers a parkland dedication requirement.
The plat and site master plan changes are sought by site owner/developer Snelling Midway Redevelopment LLC. Along with its vote on the plat, the City Council will also have to agree that privately owned public land can be used toward its parkland dedication requirement.
Another development-related proposal is headed to the St. Paul Planning Commission: to renew an interim use permit for parking lots west of the stadium. The use was permitted in 2018. It expires this year. No date for action has been set.
A master plan for the site was approved by the City Council in 2016. Allianz Field opened in 2019. Various master plan changes for United Village have been floated in recent years, with high-rise offices along Snelling, a movie theater and other features dropped.
There’s considerable community frustration that the area north of the stadium hasn’t been developed, and sometimes is strewn with litter. Community members include the area in neighborhood cleanups.
Midway Center’s main and smaller buildings and a bank occupied the block for decades. Part of Midway Center came down to make way for the stadium. A liquor store and the remaining section of Midway Center were destroyed by fire in 2020 during civil unrest that followed George Floyd’s murder. Only McDonald’s and a small multi-tenant building remain.
In the 2016 plan, the Snelling-University corner was tabbed for office space and a cinema, with a fitness club and office use to the south. The block where the hotel and parking ramp are now planned was to be part of green space extending from the stadium to University. The restaurants pavilion was always some type of commercial space. The playground site was eyed for the hotel.
At the southeast corner of University and Snelling, a public plaza with some type of sculpture is planned. South of that area would be interim parking along Snelling, and a retail/office building. The office building would be four stories high and would have a combination of office and retail space. To the east, where McDonald’s is, would be a hotel with parking ramp and underground parking along University. A restaurant pavilion would be southeast of the hotel.
East of the soccer stadium would be a traditional playground, with what Wolf described as a “Minnesota twist.”
The plat changes would mean more than 10 percent of the superblock would be privately owned public space. That ownership arrangement can be used to meet a development’s parkland dedication requirements, said St. Paul Parks and Recreation Director Andy Rodriguez.
Parks commissioners had mixed reactions to the open space changes. Commissioner Dave Burns said he’s heard support for a commercial space at the Snelling-University corner. Commissioner Theresa Paulson said the sculpture park is an “amazing idea.”
“It would bring art to a very busy corner,” she said.
Although the stadium and its surrounding block are technically in Union Park District 13, “A lot of what happens plays out in our neighborhood,” said Hamline Midway Coalition Board President Cole Hanson. From his home, he can see the empty, fenced lot at Snelling and University.
Coalition board members raised site needs ranging from more shade trees to public restrooms. They also wanted more details on environmental cleanup that is to get underway this fall.
Recently retired St. Paul Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm and Carolyn Wolf of the real estate consulting firm Tegra are project consultants. The consultants will be meeting with both district councils to present regular updates.
“A lot has changed in the last four years,” Hahm said.
The consultants said the property needs “significant” environmental cleanup and has grants for the work. Grants dictate cleanup timing.
Three areas of the superblock have required cleanup and/or testing in the past – the former bus barn site where the stadium, its green space and parking area are, the southeast corner and the northeast area.
Union Park District Council members have been vocal in their frustration with the lack of development. They asked for the July Parks Commission vote to be delayed, citing a lack of time to review it. District Council Executive Director Leah Timberlake Sullivan said that trust between the developers and community has been fractured. Similar frustration about site conditions and lack of action were expressed in letters to the Parks Commission from area resident Jonathan Oppenheimer and April King
“People are unhappy with the site conditions,” said Union Park District Council Member Dean Cummings, who chairs the district council land use committee. “There’s a lot of history and a lot of bad feelings.”
Cummings also questions rumors of large loon statue at the Snelling-University plaza, and wonders if it would just be a large advertisement for the Minnesota United Loons soccer team.
Paul Sawyer, who works in design and construction for Parks and Recreation, said there will be opportunities for the public to weigh in. All of the development blocks will require site plan review, which could go to the Planning Commission. The redone plan for the site could also go back for commission review.
The challenge is that once a plat is filed, state law dictates that the city has 60 days in which to act, Sawyer said. City staff is drafting an agreement that will retain the open space for public use in perpetuity, and will cover issues including maintenance. 
The benefit for the city is that while there is public use, the plaza and playground will be privately developed and maintained in perpetuity. “We have no budget for (parks) development,” Sawyer said.
The platting process is being pushed along by the need to spend environmental cleanup grants within deadlines and get work started in September, said Wolf.
The Metropolitan Council in July approved a $652,400 cleanup grant in July for United Village Phase 1. The site also has other cleanup funding, for a total of about $2 million. The initial cleanup would be focused along University on 3.8 acres. The state and county have provided cleanup funding. The St. Paul Port Authority will lead the cleanup.
Once the site is cleaned up, infrastructure can be installed.


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