If St. Paul is to succeed in landing a Major League Soccer team, the property it is promoting for the franchise's future home will likely need to be developed for more than just a stadium.
What makes the 34.5-acre site bounded by Snelling and University avenues an ideal spot for a soccer venue is its potential for a broader development that would include stores, bars and restaurants, said Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.
What Major League Soccer wants "more than anything else, is a successful, thriving franchise," Kramer said Friday. "But more and more, economic development is part of that."
While St. Paul's interest in professional soccer dates back several years, the city jumped to the front of stadium discussions earlier this month after the Minnesota United ownership group and city of Minneapolis failed to firm up plans to build on a site near Target Field.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who pledged to lead an "all-hands-on-deck effort" to land the stadium, said at the time that the underdeveloped 34.5-acre site at Snelling and University avenues in the Midway neighborhood represented Minnesota's best chance to get a franchise that was promised on the condition that it had its own field.
In pursuit of that goal, the city has ramped up efforts to woo team owner Bill McGuire and his investment group, which includes members of the Pohlad family and Glen Taylor, owner of the Star Tribune.
Kramer and a spokesman for Coleman said Friday that they've had no conversations this week with Minnesota United or Major League Soccer.
Dan Courtemanche, a league spokesman, said Friday that league officials plan to visit St. Paul next month, and will discuss their plan publicly "when finalized."
While Minneapolis officials have said they have not given up efforts to secure the team and a stadium and, in fact, have established a "stadium working group" to consider a proposal to build a $150 million stadium near downtown, Kramer said St. Paul is aggressively touting a site he calls "superior."
"We have not been calling United, have not been calling MLS," he said. "But we have been throwing a little gasoline on the fire. We are telling MLS, 'Are you willing to walk away from a great franchise, a great place?' … We have a site with four major roads around 34.5 acres. This [a stadium] could be a real development catalyst for that entire site."
Roughly 10 acres would be needed for a stadium, Kramer said. The remainder, composed of parking lots and the nearby Midway Shopping Center strip mall, is ripe for what he called "transit-oriented development."
Centrally located between the two downtowns, it could be an attractive location for office buildings, shops, pubs and restaurants — all within walking distance of the stadium, he said. Absent that associated development, however, Kramer said a soccer stadium with only a few nearby bars or shops "is not going to cut it."
Who would develop the property near the stadium isn't yet clear.
United Properties — owned by the Pohlad family — is currently redeveloping Midway Stadium, the former home of the St. Paul Saints baseball team, for the city.
McGuire, meanwhile, e-mailed St. Paul officials as far back as August 2013 to express interest in developing more than a soccer stadium on the Snelling-University site.
He acknowledged in his e-mail that he was "beginning to explore a broad plan" that "would involve the stadium, office, retail, housing, hospitality, etc." Two months later, city planners told Coleman in a memo that McGuire "has indicated he needs a minimum of 6 acres, and is potentially interested in being part of a mixed-used development."
McGuire's vision for a stadium in Minneapolis also has included more than the venue itself.
In March, he and his representatives talked about a more detailed plan surrounding a proposed stadium — one that included a modernized Farmers Market that would feed into a unique dining facility.
That McGuire and Minnesota United may have bigger plans for St. Paul's Midway site dovetails nicely with the city's goals, Kramer said.
The Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit, with the city and the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation, have been working since 2012 to facilitate redevelopment of about 15 acres near Snelling and University. More recently, discussions have involved RK Midway LLC, owner of Midway Shopping Center, to include 18-plus acres in potential redevelopment.
Marcy McHenry owns two businesses that could be affected by redevelopment of Midway Shopping Center — Dancers Studio and Midpointe Event Center. She said Friday that she's not against a soccer stadium or redevelopment "as long as we are included in some of the decision making."
What makes the area attractive for a stadium also makes it ideal for her businesses, she said, adding that she hopes to be incorporated in any plan there.
Even if Minnesota United and MLS go elsewhere, Kramer said, the stadium discussion has prompted developers to take a fresh look at Snelling-University.
"If part of this is the story of Major League Soccer coming to St. Paul, fantastic," he said. "But what I want more than anything is something new on this hunk of land."