With all eyes focused on the St. Paul Saints' prospective Lowertown home in 2015, few are giving much thought yet to the future of Midway Stadium, the lovable shambles of a ballpark the team has occupied for 20 years.
Except for Louis Jambois, president of the St. Paul Port Authority, who can't wait to get the authority's hands on the stadium's 12.8-acre site at Energy Park Drive and Snelling Avenue once the Saints move out.
"We've got an ad in the Saints' pocket schedule, 'Are you looking for a new home field? Call the St. Paul Port Authority,'" Jambois said. "It's been generating a lot of interest in the business community. I don't think we're going to have any trouble filling that site."
Owned by the city of St. Paul, the 31-year-old Midway Stadium will be deeded to the authority when the Saints go downtown and eventually become part of the popular Energy Park Business Center. As any Saints fan knows, the site comes with valuable rail access.
Jambois said the acreage is badly needed. The authority has 21 business parks across the city, including four river shipping terminals, but there is relatively little vacant space, and only four properties are available for building. Last month Matsuura Machinery USA, a Japanese manufacturing subsidiary, opened its U.S. headquarters in an authority building at the River Bend Business Center.
The authority will demolish Midway Stadium, a job estimated to cost about $700,000, and then spend millions to clean up pollution and prepare the soil.
Unlike other authority parcels sold for a dollar to interested businesses, however, the stadium site will go on the market to help recoup the $1.85 million the authority spent last year for the Lowertown ballpark site — the former Gillette/Diamond Products factory. With the city strapped for cash, the authority offered to buy the Gillette property, turn it over to the city and take the city-owned Midway Stadium site in lieu of repayment. St. Paul officials quickly agreed to the land swap, which Jambois said was critical in winning the state's approval of a $25 million Department of Employment and Economic Development grant for the $54 million ballpark project.
"The notion of converting an old industrial property that no one wants into a ballpark, while converting a ballpark in an industrial area back to industry, was a message that really resonated with folks at the Capitol," he said.
Energy Park contains 85 businesses that provide 5,000 jobs and pay $6.6 million annually in property taxes, the authority said.
The Midway Stadium site could significantly boost those numbers, officials said, adding 300 to 500 jobs in the next 10 years and leveraging private investment up to $15 million. Property taxes on the site would be an estimated $600,000, although the net gain in tax revenue would be lower because the new city-owned ballpark would be tax-exempt.
"That's a forward-looking estimate, based on our 30-year history of redevelopment," Jambois said.
That's also good news for St. Paul workers, since employers at authority business parks must pay hourly wages of at least $11 with health benefits; 70 percent of new hires need to live in the city.
With the Saints down to their last two seasons at Midway, thoughts are turning to how the team's rabid fans might be given a chance to take home a piece of the old ballpark before it's razed.
Jambois said they're kicking around ideas with the city's Parks and Recreation Department and no decisions have been made, save one: There won't be a repeat of the rowdy Disco Demolition Night that Saints president and co-owner Mike Veeck staged in 1979 at Comiskey Park when he was promotions director. The chaos forced the White Sox to forfeit a game.
"We all know we can't replicate that," Jambois said, laughing, "but we'd like to do something."