City discovers $8.8 million funding gap in $54 million ballpark project

The Lowertown site is more polluted than first thought, adding $8.8 million to St. Paul’s cleanup tab even before the land is cleared.

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Design concept of the new Lowertown Ballpark in St. Paul.

The new St. Paul Saints ballpark is more than $8 million over budget, weeks before demolition even begins on the polluted downtown site.

St. Paul leaders pledged Wednesday to find the extra money needed to remove contaminated soil and rubble so that the Lowertown ballpark originally expected to cost $54 million will be ready for the Saints’ season opener in 2015.

Most of the additional funding, $6.2 million, is needed to clean and stabilize soil at the former factory site. That more than doubles the $5 million that project managers had estimated was needed.

The balance, $2.6 million, would be used to make the Saints’ new home field a first-class minor league ballpark and “a facility we’re proud of,” said Mike Hahm, the city’s parks and recreation director. That includes downtown amenities such as a community gathering space.

The nature of the cleanup came to light after soil borings showed that pollutants had deeply penetrated the soil, which will force crews to remove more soil than previously thought necessary and dig a much deeper trench than planned for a sanitary sewer line that needs to be rerouted.

The project will transform the site into a 7,000-seat ballpark expected to annually host more than 100 youth, amateur and college events in addition to 50 Saints games. Officials say it will draw 400,000 visitors per year.

Hahm said that it’s not unusual to find more pollution than expected at a brownfield site. But the news disappointed City Council members, who said they weren’t aware of possible budget overruns until they received a letter Wednesday spelling out the situation.

“It certainly is really disheartening news,” council President Kathy Lantry said. “I think they’re going to have to cut the budget, but with a chasm that wide you’re not going to solve it by putting in cheaper seats.”

Hahm said the focus now is on tapping a combination of public and private sources — including more money from the Saints — to plug the gap, rather than just cutting costs. “We’re going to work with partners that we’ve worked with before to address those situations,” he said.

Plans to raze the Gillette/Diamond Products building next month will proceed, Hahm said, but he declined to say when the project could be halted if more financing doesn’t become available.

The project includes a $2 million contingency fund, but that is earmarked for construction only.

“The challenge will be for the [parks] department and the Saints to figure out a way to pay for the overrun,” Council Member Dave Thune said.

“There’s only so much you can cut back in a stadium,” Thune said. “We’re not going to be cutting back police or rec centers to pay for the ballpark. It’s going to have to be new money.”

Saints Vice President Tom Whaley said that the team was talking with city leaders about how it could help.

“While recent issues are not insignificant, we’ve scaled mountains to get where we got today, and we’re not going to let a couple little hills get in the way,” Whaley said.

Funding for the project includes a $25 million state grant, $17 million in city bonding and $1.5 million from the Saints. The balance will come from assorted funds. Half the bonds will be paid with rent from the Saints.

St. Paul also won a $1 million state grant to remove contaminants from the 11-acre site.

Coal gas manufacturing occurred on the site from 1885 until the 1960s. Parts of the site also were used by a shoe factory, a plumbing wholesaler and fish company, transformer storage and cold storage facilities.

Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035

Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035

Coal gas manufacturing occurred on the site from 1885 until the 1960s. Parts of the site also were used by a shoe factory, a plumbing wholesaler and fish company, transformer storage and cold storage facilities.

  • Lowertown ballpark

    $54 million

    for original project

    $8.8 million

    in unexpected costs

    16 percent

    over budget

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