The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved $9 million to plug a funding gap in the $63 million budget for the Saints’ downtown ballpark, keeping the project on course in the face of citizens who called it a bloated and dubious city priority.
Council members said they believed in the basic soundness of the project’s financing and the value of the project for downtown and the Lowertown district. But they warned city officials not to come back to them for more funding.
“At the end of the day, having a municipal ballpark for high school leagues, Legion leagues and collegiate tournaments is important … I think there is enough public use that this is worth investing in,” said Council Member Chris Tolbert, who admitted struggling with the additional funding.
Council Member Nathaniel Khaliq, who acknowledged doubts of his own, said that he had to do what was right for the city. “Downtown St. Paul is in trouble. We need a shot in the arm, for all the risk that’s involved,” he said.
The original price of the ballpark was $54 million. St. Paul officials announced last month that the ballpark was over budget, mostly because soil at the site was found to need more stabilization and cleaning than previously thought. The ballpark’s design also was determined to require an additional $3 million as details were ironed out.
About $6 million of the additional money will come from an internal city loan that officials hope to repay with environmental grants from state and regional sources, along with the city’s share of ballpark revenues and project savings.
The balance will come from a $2 million city contribution from its state-funded sports facilities pool and an additional $1 million contribution from the Saints.
Several people testified in opposition, urging the council to reject the funding and even call a halt to the project in favor of more funding for neighborhood recreation centers.
In answer to a question from Council Member Dan Bostrom on whether there were any plans to close or decommission rec centers in the next couple of years, Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said no.
Hahm also said that it would cost the city $10 million to $17 million to replace Midway Stadium, a concrete structure that is the current home of the Saints and seats about 5,800. The Lowertown ballpark will have 7,000 seats, including four suites and group seating.
Next month, city officials expect to finish a development and use agreement with the Saints — essentially the lease that the Saints as operators and tenants will sign with its landlord, the city — that will give St. Paul a share in the team’s ballpark proceeds and what the team would make should it be sold within seven years.
Those percentages have not been finalized, but Todd Hurley, the city’s financial services director, said that the city probably would get 5 to 10 percent of the ballpark revenues and anywhere from 1 to 10 percent of the proceeds should the team be sold.