News that Minnesota United’s new soccer home was coming to St. Paul’s Midway area convinced David Zeller to buy a house within walking distance. Gameday hassles since Allianz Field opened in April have spurred Cooper Heine to flee.
To Zeller and other team supporters, Allianz Field is transforming the surrounding area into an appealing destination. Heine? Not only is it impossible to park near his apartment building during games, he said, but drunken and rowdy fans regularly stumble through his Merriam Park neighborhood.
“We’re moving because of it,” said Heine, a baseball fan who lives a third of a mile from Allianz Field.
Minnesota United has played 12 games at its new St. Paul Midway home — about halfway through the home portion of its schedule — and many neighbors fall into one of two groups: Those delighted with the venue, the team and the energy of nearly 20,000 fans pouring into an area once on the brink of blight, and those seething over gameday spikes in traffic, street-parking woes and noise.
Which group neighbors fall into seems to correlate with their proximity to the stadium, their love of soccer and whether fans snatch up all the parking spots on their block.
Lisa Nelson, who became a soccer fan soon after United moved to Midway, lives half a mile west of the stadium.
“It’s been great,” said the attendee of all but one home game so far. “I walk there.”
She’s seen no parking or traffic troubles in her immediate neighborhood. Most cars are gone within an hour after the games have ended, Nelson said.
“Really, things have kind of happened how I expected,” she said. “People were really worried about parking, but I’ve seen so many people riding their bikes.”
From area bars and restaurants sprucing up to attract customers to new apartment buildings expected to rise nearby, businesses are taking advantage of their proximity to the $250 million home of the Loons.
Jake Fleming, owner of the Trend Bar, is remaking the former University Avenue dive into a team hangout that’s packed with supporters before and after games. He’s even painted the interior walls with United’s colors of light blue, gray and black.
“The neighborhood’s getting a lot better,” Fleming said, crediting beefed-up police presence and soccer fans’ mostly good behavior. “They’re the best fans I’ve ever seen.”
But there’s plenty of angst — mostly regarding parking and traffic — during Allianz Field’s inaugural season. In response to resident demands, the St. Paul City Council recently approved permit-only street parking a few blocks south of the stadium — while declining to restrict parking in two other adjacent areas.
Neighbors pushed for restrictions both for safety and to preserve parking for residents with few garages or driveways, said Dan Jambor, a Union Park District Council board member. Some say they’ve nearly been struck by cars speeding to snag a free spot.
“The traffic and the way it goes through there!” he said. “People don’t realize they’re driving through someone’s neighborhood.”
Zeller, who said he is an advocate for transit and bicycling, agreed that gameday traffic should be calmed. But he disagrees with the city’s decision to impose full-time permit parking in response to 20 home games a year.
“I get the traffic fear,” said the member of the Dark Clouds team supporters group. “But going from nothing to a parking ban 365 days a year was a very drastic step.’
By bus, trail, bike and car
The concerns over transportation at Allianz Field were expressed even before the first game was played.
Only about 400 parking spaces were built on the stadium site. City and team officials downplayed the scant number, saying a greater percentage of United fans eschew driving than fans at other venues.
Howie Padilla, a spokesman for Metro Transit, said that more fans take public transportation than projected, with between 8,000 and 11,000 fans riding the bus or train to each home game this year. Racks for up to 400 bicycles at the stadium are regularly full, game-goers say.
They’re also driving — and discovering that nearby parking is hard to find.
The team has agreements to make some area parking available to fans.
But a nearby ramp for season ticket holders is sold-out. And a parking lot a few blocks west is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The team promotes parking, and tailgating, at the fairgrounds with shuttles to Allianz Field. But parking there is not available for all games.
All of which has created a scramble for free on-street parking in nearby neighborhoods.
Well before kickoff of a recent United game against the San Jose Earthquakes, residential streets up to a half-mile north and south of the stadium were lined with parked cars.
On Iglehart Avenue to the south, Greg Whiteman parked his SUV filled with friends.
Next month, this area will be permit parking only.
The season ticket holder from Brainerd said he will simply look for another spot to park. “I’m not driving two hours to take public transit,” Whiteman said.
Sean Ryan, former head of the Union Park District Council’s transportation committee, said no one expected everything to go smoothly from the start.
He believes parking and traffic problems will ease as fans become familiar with the area and new parking accompanies development around the stadium.
“The stadium is bringing people to the neighborhood, whether they are parking or taking transit, and they’re bringing their dollars. That is to the greater benefit of the city,” he said. “I’m trying to manage my expectations. I hope my neighbors can do that, too.”