The design of the St. Paul Saints ballpark — to go up in Lowertown this spring — has drawn criticism for not looking more like the downtown office and Warehouse District, with its classical brick buildings from the turn of the last century.
And that’s just fine with Mike Veeck, the team’s voluble co-owner. In his mind, traditional ballparks are just so … yesterday.
“People in my business call and they say, ‘What are you building?’ The wooden roof, the angles, the Prairie [style] influence … that’s exactly what I wanted to have happen!” he said. “There’s nothing retro about this ballpark. This is forward-thinking.”
Veeck was in St. Paul on Tuesday for a presentation on two interactive public art options designed by Futures North, a Twin Cities collaborative that won the $170,000 contract to oversee ballpark art.
Construction on the $63 million project is expected to begin in April, with the 7,000-seat ballpark slated to open for play in May 2015.
The art options were “Field Condition” — a wall-mounted sculpture of 735 aluminum baseball bats, with LED lights in the end of each bat to animate real-life swing patterns and speeds — and “Meander,” 28 lighted sculptural pillars running along a retaining wall to represent the twisting course of the Mississippi River from St. Anthony Falls to St. Louis.
The Lowertown Ballpark Design and Construction Committee decided on “Meander.” The final choice will be largely made by a committee of eight artists, designers, city and team officials. The public also will be able to register its choice, based on the results of an online survey that runs through March 5. The survey link and information about the art options can be found at www.lowertownballpark.com.
Most committee members clearly preferred “Meander,” owing to the way it reflects local history. Amy Spong of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission said she thought “Meander” met the commission’s art principles.
“I actually like both of them, but I think I’m happier with ‘Meander,’ ” Lowertown developer John Mannillo said.
“I love both!” Veeck said.
Veeck, who brought the team to St. Paul in 1993 and shares ownership with Marvin Goldklang and actor Bill Murray, said after the meeting that he preferred the baseball bat sculpture wall. As soon as he saw the winding river wall, however, he knew it would win the committee’s backing.
“And that’s the way it should be, because it most represents the state of Minnesota, which is what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Veeck said he attended Tuesday’s meeting because good design can make or break a ballpark. As an example, he pointed to Chicago’s new Comiskey Park, parts of which were made over after it initially drew a negative reaction.
“I’m not interested in the financing and how they do that, and how many seats we have and how much money we can generate. I’m interested in this, because this is what leads to the money,” Veeck said. “You can fight over $13 and not get the design right, and people aren’t going to come.”
Veeck said that the Saints ballpark doesn’t have to look like the Lowertown neighborhood to fit into Lowertown.
“The star of this neighborhood is the Farmers Market,” he said. “Lenny’s building [Market House, where chef Lenny Russo operates Heartland Restaurant] is the star. The ballpark is a meeting place, but the real star is the neighborhood.”
Moreover, he said, the low-slung design of the ballpark will restore “all of those wonderful vistas” of Dayton’s Bluff that were blocked by the factory that filled the site for years.
He said the baseball world is interested in what’s happening in St. Paul because the ballpark isn’t a typical project coming out of traditional stadiums builders like HOK or Populous, but rather local architects Logan Gerken of Ryan Cos. and Julie Snow.
It “has remarkable, remarkable ramifications across the country,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I want you to know, in my business you’ve got ’em buzzing. Yeah!”
Veeck’s next goal: Getting E. 4th Street near the ballpark renamed “Positively 4th Street” in honor of Minnesota icon Bob Dylan.
“We already have Prince [Street],” he said.