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Continued: Wish list: New home for Saints

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 26, 2009 - 11:27 PM

The St. Paul Saints are in the game, but it could be several months -- or even years -- before they know if they will be able to score a new ballpark.

As the minor-league baseball team tries to rally support and work with the city of St. Paul to raise money for a ballpark, it has become clear that very little is in the team's control.

This week, the St. Paul City Council included a municipal ballpark along with several other projects on its 2010 legislative bonding wish list. While the $25 million request doesn't specify a site, a shuttered shampoo factory near the Lowertown farmers market is the preferred site.

Among the challenges the Saints must work around are two planned major infrastructure projects, a Central Corridor light-rail line maintenance shop and a rebuilt Lafayette Bridge, which would abut the site. Also, the land has yet to be purchased, and airport safety zoning, which could affect tailgating, is being worked out.

And there is no guarantee that legislators will get on board, having rejected previous funding requests that would have benefited the Saints.

Saints executive vice president Tom Whaley has no illusions, but he believes the new infrastructure also presents opportunity.

"This is all about the how," he said. "We want to be there, and we think we'd be a good use of that land."

The city would own and operate the 7,500-seat ballpark, and the Saints would be a major tenant. For every $2.50 of public money, $1 of private money would be used.

It's a wise investment, city officials say, because high school, college and other amateur teams would use the facility. Plus, they say, it's a reasonably priced family-friendly attraction.

The Saints say they could bring in from 350,000 to 400,000 people during their season.

The current idea for the stadium is a bit unorthodox because it would face south-southwest. Typically ballparks face east so the setting sun doesn't blind the batter.

"It's not exactly by the book, but neither are we," Whaley said. He said the orientation would allow folks downtown to see into the stadium and for the crowd to see downtown.

By many accounts, Midway Stadium, the city-owned stadium where the Saints currently play, is in bad shape -- not enough bathrooms, lumpy land, outdated lights.

The Saints and St. Paul have tried in the past to update or get new digs. The Saints tried to partner with the University of Minnesota to renovate Midway, but the U decided to stay on campus. The city made a $15 million legislative request for a Midway renovation last year and then lowered the amount to $100,000 for planning, but it was vetoed.

Saints bigwigs, including actor/co-owner Bill Murray, were in City Hall prepared to pitch the idea to the City Council on Wednesday, but members decided a presentation wasn't necessary.

Plan has some key support

So far the team has earned the support of City Council Member Dave Thune, who represents the area, Mayor Chris Coleman and the Greater St. Paul Chamber of Commerce.

Others have heard the team's ideas, as representatives have sought out residents and business owners in Lowertown to get their opinions.

"Reception has been relatively positive, with some caution because we don't know the details," said Lowertown resident Ellen McPartlan.

Concerns raised by residents and others include parking, traffic, noise and trash.

"There certainly are a lot of challenges, but there's a window of opportunity, and there might be a way to get this done," said Joe Spencer, arts and culture policy aide to Coleman. He noted the momentum of activity in Lowertown, such as new bars, a jazz festival and a Cirque du Soleil show.

But the timeline for a building a ballpark -- should things go as the Saints and St. Paul hope -- is a bit precarious.

Construction on the $915 million Central Corridor is set to run from 2010 to 2014. The $185 million Lafayette Bridge reconstruction is set to begin be done in the same time frame. A ballpark would likely need to be built in concert with those projects.

"There's a real opportunity if the timelines all match up," Whaley said.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148

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