The answer to Lowertown’s parking woes, some residents and business owners say, rests with the factory that St. Paul wants to tear down to make room for the city’s new Saints ballpark.
But that pitch adds up to nothing more than a swing and a miss, ballpark planners say.
The neighborhood met Wednesday evening to discuss discuss how the vacant Gillette/Diamond Products building could be refitted for the ballpark and include parking and other attractions — despite being told by the ballpark architect that extensive re-use of the building would bust the project’s $54 million budget.
The residents and business owners disagree, saying a phased development would cost the same and have room for more than 600 parking spaces, an all-season farmers market, a model railroad museum, an indoor ice skating and bike racing.
And they have won an important convert to their cause: Council Member Dave Thune is urging Mayor Chris Coleman to take a fresh look at making the Gillette building part of the ballpark design. Thune said he’s not persuaded by arguments that there wouldn’t be the money or time to get the ballpark ready for the 2015 season.
“It’s not good enough to say that people are going to have to get used to downtown changes in parking,” he said. “We have existing obligations to people who live and work downtown to make sure all their parking doesn’t disappear.”
Thune added that the ballpark originally was sold as a facility that could be used year-round, not just in summer.Last week, ballpark architect Logan Gerken told a district council committee meeting that re-using part of the Gillette building for parking or other uses would raise the project’s cost.
Gerken, who works for Ryan Cos., the ballpark’s design-builder, said it made sense to save only portions of the factory’s basement slab, retaining walls and foundation. Those areas would help anchor the ballpark and cap contaminated soil, he said.
Putting parking in the ballpark would increase the project’s size and add to its cost, he said.
Final plans are not complete, but Gerken said the ballpark will be sunk into a natural bowl on the site so fans can walk off the street onto the concourse and down into the stands.
He said the design will ensure that the ballpark’s light poles meet height restrictions required by the Downtown Airport just across the Mississippi River.
St. Paul estimates that there are more than 11,500 parking spaces within walking distance of the ballpark. But residents and business owners say that many of them are too far away and short-term to be useful to them. The ballpark itself will remove about 320 on- and off-street spots used by public and contract parkers.
The ballpark, which will be owned by the city, will seat 7,000 fans and is expected to draw about 400,000 visitors annually to about 160 events.