Construction for the $63 million Saints ballpark in downtown St. Paul has been pushed back several months, city officials said, because of soil and pollution problems at the ballpark site and subsequent budget adjustments made this summer.
But they insisted Wednesday that this latest bump in the road isn’t big enough to delay the start of the 2015 Saints season at the new ballpark.
“There is no issue with being able to open for opening day 2015. Any other dates being adjusted won’t affect that bottom line,” said Brad Meyer, spokesman for the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department.
What it does mean is that the Saints won’t have four or five months before the season starts to fine-tune operations at the new facility, Meyer said. Slack was built into the original timetable to accommodate the team, he said.
City Council members said Wednesday that they believed the ballpark will be ready and didn’t think the construction delay would be a problem.
“They always build enough of a cushion into these things because something will always happen,” said Dave Thune, who represents downtown.
Council President Kathy Lantry said she didn’t consider it a game changer. “What they’re telling me is that the delay here is when they’re going to get in the ground, but everything else is proceeding,” she said. “Let’s say [the Saints] do move in late. It’s a sports facility. It’s not the 911 center.”
However, mayoral candidate Tim Holden is using the delay to assert that the ballpark project needs to be freshly analyzed and scrutinized, “just like the Vikings stadium.”
Putting all the facts “on the table will enlighten the state about subsidized spending and the priorities we have embarked on,” Holden wrote in an e-mail.
He is challenging Mayor Chris Coleman, who long has pushed for a Lowertown ballpark for the Saints and who last year spearheaded St. Paul’s efforts to win a state grant of $25 million to help finance the city-sponsored project.
The delay stems from site complications and the need to close an $8.8 million funding gap that emerged this summer, Meyer said. That set back design plans, which aren’t slated to be finished until December, although Meyer said that some drawings may be ready next month.
That, in turn, has held up an agreement between the city and Ryan Companies, which is overseeing the design and construction of the ballpark, on a guaranteed maximum price for the project. Such a price would hold Ryan liable to cover any additional cost overruns and protect the city.
Originally, it was thought that agreement on the not-to-exceed price would be reached this month, Meyer said. That would then give the green light to start construction, which city officials earlier this year said would begin this fall.
Instead, the guaranteed maximum price will be set in February, Meyer said. And according to the ballpark website, construction now is set to begin April 1 and continue on a 12-month schedule before the Saints begin playing in mid-May 2015.
Thune said that failure to connect on a guaranteed maximum price did worry him. “We’re in there with [Ryan], and we both discovered some overruns that none of us knew existed,” he said.
Plans for the ballpark have been on a roller coaster for years. When the Saints talked about building a new ballpark in 2009, the estimated cost was $25 million to $30 million.
Two years later, that estimate had risen to $50 million and then last year to $54 million, where it stayed until this summer, when the city announced a $8.8 million shortfall due to environmental and design issues.
A state grant of $25 million a year ago this month made the project a reality, and the city awarded the contract to Ryan. But it was forced to backtrack and solicit bids for the work after Gov. Mark Dayton threatened to withhold funding in the absence of a competitive process.
Three firms submitted bids, and the city chose Ryan in the end. The Minneapolis-based company will be paid $3.48 million to oversee the project and signed a design-build contract with the city last winter.