Amid the last vestiges of winter, construction began Wednesday on a new Saints home in Lowertown in St. Paul.
The St. Paul Saints mascot, Mudonna, was given a hand as she toured the site of the new ballpark going up in the Lowertown neighborhood. Below, workers poured cement into the footings for the stadium, which is scheduled to open next spring and will be used by a variety of baseball teams.
On a blustery Wednesday, as wintry weather maintained its grip a bit longer, the builders of a ballpark for St. Paul’s boys of summer got to work.
Amid the thrumming of concrete trucks and excavators, crews from Ryan Construction began pouring concrete to create the footings and foundations for the much-anticipated — and debated — downtown St. Paul ballpark.
The event, complete with St. Paul Saints’ mascot Mudonna, a fuzzy, human-sized pink pig, shouted “Play Ball” for the construction of the $63 million, 7,000-seat facility. The ballpark, located in the city’s Lowertown neighborhood, is to open in May 2015.
Still, with snow falling, it was hard to see that far into the future Wednesday, as Saints and Ryan officials spelled out details of the construction timeline.
Mark Maghrak, team leader of construction for Ryan, said the tightly choreographed construction schedule should enable the builders to meet the 2015 opening-day deadline. Working counterclockwise around the site through the summer and into the fall, crews will move from pouring concrete to installing prefabricated concrete panels, to raising structural steel, to installing more prefab.
By late September, workers will begin laying the sod for the playing field. Finish work should be completed in February, Maghrak said. Because the park is smaller and crews will be working simultaneously, Maghrak said, it can all be done quickly.
“This is a ballpark,” he said. “We’re not building the Twins stadium. We’re not trying to compete with that.”
The new ballpark has had its share of issues as its budget has climbed.
In 2009, the estimated cost was placed at $25 million to $30 million; two years later, that estimate had grown to $50 million and then, in 2012, $54 million. The project’s price tag was finally placed at $63 million last summer, when city officials announced an $8.8 million shortfall due to environmental and design challenges.
The most recent boost came as officials announced the need to remove contaminated soil and rubble at the site of the former Gillette/Diamond Products factory near the downtown farmers market.
Some, including local developer John Manillo, say there has been little public input into the project design or how it will fit into the historic Lowertown district. Manillo is on an advisory committee that he says has not been tapped for advice.
Still, city and team officials are promising a first-class minor league ballpark that will host more than 100 events a year — including youth, amateur and college games — and bring roughly 400,000 visitors annually to Lowertown.
Funding for the project includes $28 million in state development and environmental grants and a $1 million loan. St. Paul will own the ballpark and is contributing $23.25 million, including a $4.25 million balance on an internal loan, which it hopes to pay off with county environmental grants and unspent contingency funds. The Saints are kicking in $2.2 million in cash and will pay off $8.8 million in city bonding with regular rent payments to the city.
In all, more than 80 percent of the cost of the project is being paid with public funds.
On Wednesday, the work at the site was part of a buzz of activity in the area. As workers used a giant boom-like concrete pump to ferry fresh concrete from trucks to holes, different crews off to the east edge of the future ballpark continued to build the new Lafayette Bridge that passes over the Mississippi. To the immediate south of the site, other crews were busy working on a new light-rail maintenance facility. In fact, the facility’s massive exterior concrete wall rises just 16 feet beyond the ballpark’s right field fence.
Bob Curley, senior superintendent for Ryan, acknowledged the hum. “It’s pretty busy down here,” he said.
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report.