St. Paul Saints officials bordered on giddy this week as they led a group on a tour of their beautiful new Lowertown ballpark, CHS Field. Of course, it helped that the excursion was led by team co-owner Mike Veeck, the merry prankster of minor league baseball.
But even without Veeck’s infectious enthusiasm, CHS Field deserves a rave review. While some critics are disappointed that architect Julie Snow didn’t design a red brick, Camden-Yards-like ballpark, no one should be disappointed that the modern, open design doesn’t overwhelm Lowertown but instead provides engaging views of the reborn neighborhood, the St. Paul Farmers Market and the city skyline. As Snow explained to the Star Tribune, she wanted to make the city — not the ballpark — the star attraction. She succeeded.
With easy access to light rail, bus lines and bike paths, the 7,000-seat park should become a regional attraction for those seeking an affordable complement to the terrific major league stadium and increasingly interesting young team on the other end of the Green Line in Minneapolis. From the locker rooms and training facilities to the restrooms, event room, improved seating and small carbon footprint, CHS Field is certainly a big step up from Midway Stadium, the Saints’ rundown former home. The mostly publicly financed, city-owned ballpark will be operated by the Saints as the main tenant, but it would behoove the city to collaborate with the team in promoting CHS Field. That effort should begin with adequate street signage directing city visitors to the park, and it should expand to include a consistent marketing push from the city, the Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce.
CHS Field and its Lowertown neighborhood shouldn’t be an afterthought. It’s perplexing, for example, that the Convention & Visitors Bureau “Visit St. Paul” website listing for pro sports still has the Saints playing at Midway.
The Saints face their own big challenges — including attracting other baseball and non-baseball events to the park — while continuing to offer ticket buyers what team co-owner Marvin Goldklang describes as “an experience wrapped around a baseball game.” Saints executives promise to maintain the spirit of quirky fun that marked the Midway era after the first pitch is thrown at CHS on May 21. With Veeck leading the way, we have full confidence they’ll deliver.