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Development plan at ‘superblock’ evolving

Posted on 10 February 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By JANE McCLURE
A 2016 master plan for the Midway Center “superblock” outlined an ambitious vision of 18-story high-rise office buildings along Snelling Ave., as well as apartments, hotel space and commercial properties. Redevelopment reality could be quite different. How different is still unknown.
That lack of specifics frustrated attendees at the Dec. 16, 2019 Union Park District Council’s land use committee meeting. More than two dozen people turned out to hear about the property, which is bounded by St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues and Pascal St.
Since Allianz Field opened for its inaugural season in 2019, area residents and business owners have wondered when the rest of 34.5-acre site will be redeveloped. There is also unhappiness that Minnesota United FC hasn’t contributed toward a community benefits fund for neighborhoods around the soccer stadium, despite pressure from Union Park District Council and Hamline Midway Coalition. The fund is meant to support a range of community improvements, based on ideas gathered in a public input process.
Most attention at the district council meeting focused on redevelopment. Minnesotan United FC principal owner Dr. Bill McGuire asked for patience. He also said that while plans are in the works, those behind redevelopment must persuade potential partners that there are exciting plans for the property.
“The odds of (the site) looking exactly like the master plan are zero,” he said. While there is still a vision of a mixed-use urban village as outlined in the 2016 plan, it won’t be to the scale city planners imagined.
The lack of action on redevelopment is causing the most frustration. “Who makes the decisions?” said Hamline-Midway resident Jonathan Oppenheimer. “Who should we hold accountable?”
When the pace of redevelopment was questioned, McGuire said, “We have a good thing here. We don’t have the rest of it yet.” He added that Allianz Field is something the community can be proud of and it will spark redevelopment.
“You have a quarter of a billion dollar stadium that the whole world is talking about …streets, trees, grass and people. Five hundred thousand people came to this neighborhood in 2019 because of redevelopment,” McGuire said.
Minnesota United and the shopping center owners are working with the architecture firm Populous, which designed the stadium itself. What’s envisioned is a smaller, mixed-use village-type development.
“I spend more time on this than anybody,” he said, describing himself and Midway Center owner Rick Birdoff as the two decision makers. McGuire and his partners lease Midway Center from its longtime, New York City-based owners.
McGuire estimates that more than $1 million has been spent on planning for redevelopment, which could start in the fall. But there are issues to work out with the city and Metropolitan Council, which owns the former bus garage property at the northeast corner of Snelling and St. Anthony, before development can proceed.
Redevelopment of the entire site has an estimated cost of $850 million. The initial projects McGuire sees are an apartment complex with up to 240 units, a hotel and buildings adjacent to the Great Lawn with first-floor food vendors and offices on the upper floors.
One challenge with redevelopment, especially when affordable housing is considered, is that the Midway Center property is valued up to $5 million per acre. But McGuire said some level of affordable housing hasn’t been ruled out.
The site also has its challenges with a high water table along Snelling and the high costs of providing parking, especially underground parking.
Much hinges on what development partners can be brought in. The Midway Center redevelopment also is affected by what happens on the Midway Marketplace block to the east, where Walmart closed last year.
In the meantime, less than half of the Midway Center strip mall is still standing, along with three smaller buildings along University.
One likely change is that the Great Lawn park area north of Allianz Field is poised to become an entertainment district, which was the topic of a St. Paul City Council public hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 15 at City Hall. The parkland agreement with MUSC LLC keeps the green space open to the public as part of the city park system. Delaware North, which oversees food and beverage concessions at Allianz Field, has applied for an extension of the liquor service area on the Great Lawn as well as the areas between and across Shields Ave. to allow patrons to consume malt liquor, strong beer and wine at events held there. The change would be in time for 2020 events.





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