The current issue with financing street maintenance in the city of St. Paul might not make this the perfect time to pay tribute to the commitment to new sports facilities in Minnesota’s capital city, and then again, Wednesday night was the perfect time to be impressed with the idea.
The United Football Club was taking on Colorado in its 13th home game of the MLS schedule at Allianz Field. There were also three home games on the Loons’ drive to the U.S. Open Cup final (Aug. 27 at Atlanta) and two exhibitions vs. international opponents.
The MLS games all have been sellouts in the vicinity of 19,800, and the others have drawn 13-14,000. Those are large numbers of people heading into a Midway area that has not been conducive to visiting for entertainment since …
Well, in my opinion, since Walter Montpetit stopped running the Belmont Club on the other side of University Avenue, which is another story entirely.
“The stadium is spectacular,’’ Chris Coleman said. “It’s especially spectacular when you consider it has replaced a brown field of toxic water.”
Coleman was the St. Paul mayor for 12 years, starting in January 2006. He cut the deal with United owner Bill McGuire and his partners for a privately financed stadium, after it was turned down by Minneapolis and Betsy Hodges, then the mayor.
“I was at a Seder, at Joe Friedberg’s as I recall, and Nick Rogers was there,’’ Coleman said. “Nick was the soccer team’s president and I said, ‘Call me,’ meaning about the stadium. He said, ‘No, we’re good with Minneapolis.’
“I said, ‘OK, keep the number, just in case.’ Three weeks later, he called. We drove around and looked at sites. This was the one I hoped they would choose. The Midway needed this.’’
McGuire and United committed to building a $150 million stadium, with a few tax breaks to seal the deal. Ground was broken (barely) on a frozen afternoon in December 2016. Coleman left office on Jan. 2, 2018. He is now Minnesota’s director of Habitat for Humanity. The first match took place this April.
“I was driving by the stadium site four times a day as it was being built,’’ Coleman said. “I was amazed at what was taking place, and that Bill McGuire and United kept increasing the investment to make it better.’’
The price tag wound up at $250 million. Privately financed. And Coleman now sees a lone issue: “Twenty thousand seats. It’s too small.’’
The same could be said for the Brew Hall, the huge beer-and-bar food location in the back of the north end zone. Too small — as it was jammed a half-hour before Wednesday’s starting time.
Steve Vogt was in a Twins hat and was making a first visit with his wife, Gina, to Allianz Field. “I’m a longtime baseball fan, but we had to come and take a look,’’ he said. “What I like the best is they aren’t playing at U.S. Bank Stadium. You’re not a mile from the action; you’re right on top.’’
The Vogts were sitting at the beer-hall table next to two previous strangers: Jeff Roe, a season-ticket holder, and Johnny Yang, a soccer newcomer recruited by Roe.
How much did those frosty glasses of beer cost you? “I don’t know,’’ Yang said. “We just pay for ’em. We don’t look.’’
That is the 30-year-old with the attitude on spending that St. Paul was recruiting when Coleman steered the city into this soccer deal. And he did the same earlier in this decade, getting the city to commit to a $25-30 million hunk of CHS Field as home to the Saints, the independent pro ballclub tied to promoter/owner Mike Veeck.
The ground was broken there on the site of the monstrous, abandoned Gillette Building in Lowertown in May 2014. It opened in May 2015. The Saints were also playing on Wednesday night, in a jammed, boutique ballpark.
Twenty thousand in the Midway. Ten thousand in Lowertown. Cities need decent streets. They also need visitors. I doubt if the latter can be accused properly of being party to the streets issue.
The Twins’ revival has been producing crowds of 30,000-plus in recent weeks, yet the baseball phenomenon in Lowertown continues. The biggest crowd ever — 10,631 — attended YMCA Day on Tuesday afternoon. The average entering Wednesday was 8,033 for 41 dates.
It’s a 35-minute train ride from the stop for Allianz Field to the last stop on the Green Line near CHS Field. Too many stops on University Avenue, but what the hey, there were people having a good time at a sporting event in spectacular stadiums on both ends.
In St. Paul. And nobody mad because the home teams didn’t do enough at the trading deadline.