In many ways, it’s the crossroads of the Twin Cities.
No large development site is so centrally located; you can get there by train, bus or freeway, and it’s near many diverse St. Paul neighborhoods and several colleges.
So it’s easy to see why the large Midway tract east of Snelling Avenue, between University Avenue and Interstate 94, is being eyed as a possible Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium site by team owner Bill McGuire and his investors.
The bigger question is why the 34.5-acre expanse, so appealing on paper and much of it vacant for more than a decade, is still available for redevelopment at all.
The answer has to do with separate owners, financing gaps and differing views on what should be built — factors that have stifled a number of development prospects and may determine whether an 18,000-seat professional soccer stadium could work there.
MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott and other MLS officials plan to arrive in St. Paul on Tuesday and meet with Mayor Chris Coleman about the site’s potential.
That night, residents and businesses will air their views from 6 to 8 p.m. at Midpointe Event Center, 415 N. Pascal St. They are concerned about adding congestion to the heavily trafficked area, the financial burden of a new stadium and whether the community could use the facility.
The Union Park District Council, sponsor of the meeting, supports “further exploration” of a soccer stadium proposal as long as it included mixed-use development on the rest of the site.
“We want to make the city know that we have a stake in this, and would like them to consider community input moving forward,” said Union Park executive director Julie Reiter. Included would be the property owners: RK Midway, a shopping center developer that owns two-thirds of the site, including Midway Shopping Center; and the Metropolitan Council/Metro Transit, which owns the remaining third once used to park buses.
Tanya Bell, a principal at St. Paul-based Grand Real Estate Advisors, thinks soccer could be the ticket to unlock the site’s potential. “A stadium makes the remainder [of the site] bite-size and... easier to develop,” she said.
Brian McMahon, the head of University United, a community group that promotes transit-oriented development, thinks the city should stick to recommendations made last year of a dense urban village with housing, business and job potential.
“It’s way too important a parcel to be wasted on grass, period,” McMahon said.
City leaders have wanted to redevelop the site since at least 2002, when Metro Transit closed its bus barn. Then-Mayor Randy Kelly offered financial incentives to persuade Allina Hospitals to build its headquarters there, but that went to Minneapolis.
In 2005, the city had a deal with RK Midway for a new retail complex, including a big-box store. That project faded when Metro Transit refused to sell its parcel before finding another site for its bus barn, and community groups opposed the project for not being dense enough.
The 2014 study by Urban Investment Group of Denver — which was commissioned by the city, RK Midway and the Met Council — outlines “a strategic path forward for achieving high-quality [transit-oriented development] on the Snelling Midway Super-Block.”
But it also notes a significant stumbling block: The cost of streets, parking and landscaping for an urban village would outstrip the site’s property value, making it risky for developers.
The study suggests that up to 2,240 multifamily housing units on the site could generate enough tax breaks to make it work. But McGuire and team investors were seeking tax breaks from Minneapolis for a $150 million outdoor soccer stadium near downtown — breaks they could request of St. Paul if the site changed.
Since a July 1 deadline passed for the ownership group to firm up plans with Minneapolis, league and team officials have struck up talks with St. Paul. City staffers have listed ways that St. Paul could assist in building a stadium, including sales- and property-tax exemptions and a tax-increment financing district to cover infrastructure.
Coleman has not laid out a specific plan, but said the Met Council’s portion of the site might be offered tax-free, since it hasn’t paid taxes for decades. He believes a soccer stadium would generate enough nearby redevelopment to offset tax breaks.
McGuire exchanged information with Rick Birdoff, who oversees RK Midway, but has expressed some frustration while waiting for documents and price expectations. “Urgency seems to be lacking on their end,” McGuire wrote in an e-mail to Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann.
Neither Birdoff nor Met Council officials responded to requests for comment.