Supporters see reason for hope in Senate Majority Leader Senjem's past sponsorship.
Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed bonding bill gives the $50 million ballpark a strong push. Although there is no guarantee of passage by the GOP-controlled Legislature, new Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, was a sponsor of the proposal two years ago. The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce also is pushing the project as its No. 1 priority in 2012.
If approved this year, the park could open in 2014 when other nearby projects are due to open, including light rail, the Ordway and Union Depot renovations and the Penfield apartments. The ballpark is "a critical piece of rebuilding and revitalizing downtown," the mayor said. The project also would create construction jobs while cleaning up a polluted part of downtown.
The Lowertown ballpark would replace the 6,000-seat Saints' Midway Stadium, which hasn't been renovated in nearly nine years. Team owner Mike Veeck has said a trip to the overloaded restrooms, portable toilets or concession stands can become a two- to three-inning excursion. When it rains, a tarp must be pulled over the concessions area.
Tom Whaley, Saints executive vice president, has been pushing for a new home for five years. "It's a big year and people are going to get tired of hearing from us at some point," he said Tuesday.
Whaley said the Saints are a "good bet" based on a 20-year history that includes solid fan support. A downtown park would allow the facility to vie to host national championships for American Legion and Division II and III college teams because of the proximity of hotels, restaurants and transit, he said.
The Saints would pay $10 million for the project and the $13 million balance would come from the city, which would be responsible for land acquisition and cleanup. The plan is for the St. Paul Port Authority to swap the Lowertown industrial area it now owns for Midway Stadium. The Lowertown area would become the new ballpark, and Midway would be converted to industrial use.
What won't happen at a new ballpark: Higher ticket prices and concessions. "We know our market," Whaley said. "We've got to remain accessible to fans of minor league baseball."
A general admission ticket cost $4 in 1993. It now costs $5.
Also key to the proposal is weaving it into Lowertown's artistic bent. The Saints will operate the city-owned facility and want it to include rotating exhibits by local artists.
Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson