As Minnesota United FC faced off in Blaine’s National Sports Center on Wednesday night, another kind of showdown — one that could have a major impact on the soccer team’s future — was playing out in the council chambers of St. Paul City Hall.
The City Council held a final public hearing on plans to redevelop a 34-acre “superblock” in the Snelling-Midway neighborhood. A $150 million, approximately 20,000-seat stadium for United would be at the heart of the development planned at Snelling and University avenues.
That vision has elicited a mixed response from community members. Some have cheered on the project and are excited about the possibility of new jobs and parks in the neighborhood. Others are worried about noise and light from the stadium, and the superblock’s impact on traffic and parking.
Developers urged the city Wednesday to move forward with the plans, despite council members’ concerns about a lack of evidence showing the stadium’s economic impact and doubts over transit use projections.
“We share the same issues you do,” United owner Bill McGuire said. “We’re working on them.”
The council will vote in two weeks on the stadium site plan and a master plan for the superblock.
“There’s a little bit of a leap of faith here” if the city decides to move forward, Council President Russ Stark said. But “something had to give,” he said of the 34-acre site, much of which is a sea of asphalt, “and this opportunity came along.”
Council Member Rebecca Noecker said she’s a bit afraid of that leap, and she asked for some evidence that businesses want to move into the area.
That site currently includes the Midway Shopping Center and a vacant 10-acre plot that Metro Transit had used to store buses. The proposed plans would replace those components with the stadium, green space and commercial, entertainment, office and residential buildings.
The city’s vision for the area includes dense development that is well-connected to transit and offers jobs for a diverse workforce.
The master plan suggests that the superblock should include a minimum of 250,000 square feet of office space and 168,400 square feet of retail, including a movie theater, bowling alley and fitness club. It also stated that a minimum of 248 residential units should be built on the site.
Richard Birdoff, president of RK Midway, the company that owns the majority of the superblock property, asked for flexibility in future development plans. He questioned the city’s minimum requirement for office space.
“The office market is very thin in the midway area,” Birdoff said. “It’s a difficult thing to say 100 percent you’re going to have 250,000 square feet.”
But a new jobs report, included in the backup material for Wednesday’s public hearing, presented an optimistic view of what could exist at the site.
The draft report said employers moving into the superblock must provide good-paying jobs that offer opportunities for people of all backgrounds and allow for career advancement. Local entrepreneurs and small minority-owned businesses should be supported, the report said.