Plans for the Minnesota United FC soccer stadium site and acres of new development around it won final approval Wednesday from the St. Paul City Council.
While some council members expressed reservations before the vote — questioning traffic and transit forecasts and business interest in the development — the mood at City Hall was celebratory after the plans were approved 5-1. Council Member Jane Prince was the sole vote against the measures.
Mayor Chris Coleman heralded the day as marking “a huge milestone for St. Paul and the entire region.”
“We are one step closer to seeing incredible redevelopment in the heart of the Twin Cities — made possible by the catalyst of this proposed stadium — and one step closer to bringing Major League Soccer to Minnesota,” Coleman said in a written statement.
The formal announcement of Minnesota’s move to Major League Soccer in 2017 has still not happened, though it is expected to come Friday night. The team has planned an event Friday at CHS Field with MLS Commissioner Don Garber, United owner Dr. Bill McGuire, Gov. Mark Dayton and Coleman.
Despite some uncertainties, excitement about the future — and dissatisfaction with the present — pushed council members to approve the stadium site plan and master plan for the surrounding 34-acre area in the Snelling-Midway neighborhood.
“It really is how we envisioned the future of St. Paul,” Council Member Chris Tolbert said. “This is going to be a really exciting time for that site, and the entire neighborhood and the entire city.”
The stadium site plan lays out conditions for the approximately 16-acre site for the stadium, which would be built on a vacant plot owned by the Metropolitan Council and on land currently occupied by the Midway Shopping Center. In addition to the privately financed $150 million, 20,000-seat soccer stadium, city documents show that the area would include parkland, parking spaces, rainwater gardens, cyclist and pedestrian access and a transit plaza to accommodate shuttles that would transport people to games.
The master plan for the surrounding 34-block area would transform the site, which is currently a large parking lot and strip mall. Office towers, residential buildings, retail and a variety of other uses would fill the space, city documents show.
City Council Member Rebecca Noecker said she felt torn about approving the plans, but what pushed her to support them was a desire to change the status quo at the property.
“What’s there now is not what we want there for the future,” Noecker said.
Noecker has been concerned about whether enough businesses will be interested in moving to the planned development.
There have been a half-dozen “serious, yet informal inquiries,” said Mollie Scozzari, spokeswoman for the city’s planning and economic development department.
City officials expect formal inquiries would come in “after shovels are in the ground for the stadium or once strong evidence is given that the stadium will move forward, as that is the expected catalyst for larger redevelopment,” Scozzari wrote in an e-mail.
The Midway area has seen an increased demand for office space and the stadium will contribute to that, Midway Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chad Kulas said.
While the city’s process to make way for the stadium has chugged along, team owners are still waiting to see if state leaders come together in a special legislative session to decide the future of a tax bill that includes a property tax break for the stadium site.
Those uncertainties worried Prince, the council member who voted against the master plan and stadium site plan.
“Are we confident that we know everything we need to know to make this decision today?” Prince asked. “Are we ready to act when the jury is still out at Major League Soccer?”
Council Member Dai Thao proposed another stadium-related resolution, approved Wednesday, that would require developers to commit to certain community benefits. It says developers should designate a community liaison to answer questions during stadium construction and future development, and suggests the creation of a fund to pay for neighborhood issues related to the stadium.
Developers must also avoid displacing businesses, work to attract diverse employees and include affordable housing at the site, the resolution states. Those benefits were based on comments from Community Advisory Committee and Planning Commission meetings, Thao said.
“This is really about coming together and making something that works for everybody,” he said.