Owner Mike Veeck wants a proposed ballpark in St. Paul Lowertown to showcase resident artists.
St. Paul Lowertown resident and artist James Ramsay remembers the initial conversation with St. Paul Saints executives about a proposal for a baseball park in his neighborhood just east of the downtown Farmers Market.
"Their first question was: 'Do you want us here?' " said Ramsay, a wedding photographer. "They want to fit into the community rather than just barge in. They're trying to be respectful."
Saints owner Mike Veeck and his lobbyist Julian Empson Loscalzo were at the State Capitol on Tuesday and planned to be again Wednesday, trying to nudge $27 million into the bonding bill for the proposed $50 million ballpark.
Public art made by the neighborhood artists is a key selling point.
The sunny, irreverent Veeck isn't putting on the hard sell. "What am I going to say? I got no leverage," he said. "We know our place in the food chain. We're not talking about the Wild or the Timberwolves or the U."
All bills at the Legislature are in flux for now so predictions are perilous. The chairmen of the two bonding committees didn't return calls and e-mails Tuesday.
Midway Stadium, the Saints' current ballpark, hasn't been upgraded in eight years, Veeck notes, and with the new Target Field and the comfortable Xcel Energy Center expectation for quality fan experiences have been raised.
Veeck comes to legislators with the backing of the Lowertown community, rich in artists who migrated there some 25 years ago. They were drawn by relatively inexpensive and expansive warehouse loft-studio-gallery space and the pedestrian-friendly feel.
His ballpark would incorporate a permanent installation of art throughout the concourse. He also would install four kiosks to display the work of a rotation of 16 local artists. That means the 400,000 people who attend events at the park could see the works.
"I just think the Saints are really going to embrace and enhance the community," said Ta-coumba Aiken, whose work includes murals, public art and parking ramps. He's been living in Lowertown since it was desolate with "a bunch of empty warehouses with pigeons breaking out of buildings from the inside."
He and other artists see the Saints as a family-friendly business that draws a friendly crowd with affordable tickets. To Aiken, more people and more exposure for the artists is nothing but good. "Whether people come and buy from me or my neighbors, it's important to me to build a stable neighborhood," Aiken said.
Rose Marie Felsheim is even more committed than Aiken and Ramsay. Her gallery is downtown, but she lives just east in the Dayton's Bluff area. She and her husband hold Saints season tickets behind home plate.
"This is one of the best art communities in the nation," she said, adding that the Saints' proposal is the best she has seen for the Lowertown land. "If issues came up, they would be really willing to work with people to make sure that it would get taken care of."
Mayor Chris Coleman sees the ballpark as a "good opportunity" to "take a polluted site and clean it up."
Veeck promises ticket prices wouldn't increase in the new park. Realistically, he knows the team can stay in Midway, but the ballpark initially built for 1,500 has taken a beating. The park expanded a few years ago and now 6,000 fans attend each game. Veeck says a trip to the overloaded restrooms or portable toilets and the concession stand can take two to three innings. When it rains, he has to cover the concessions areas with a tarp.
With the bonding money from the state, the Saints and St. Paul would pay the rest, with much of the city's contribution going toward site assembly. Veeck said that the Saints would make up about a third of the 180 events per year. The Minnesota State High School League, the American Legion and Hamline University also have teams that play at the park.
Veeck talks of the Twins and Target Field at one end of the Central Corridor light-rail line and the Saints at the other. His dream? A bullet train near the Saints' ballpark to his native Chicago, making Lowertown an "epicenter of resurgence."
Regardless of what happens, Veeck doesn't warn of doom and gloom. "This is supposed to be fun," he said. "This is just a playground."
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747