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Port Authority ready if needed for superblock redevelopment

Posted on 10 October 2016 by Calvin

If help is needed, the St. Paul Port Authority is poised to step in with redevelopment of Midway Center and a Major League Soccer stadium. On a 6-0 vote Sept, 27, the Port Authority Board designated the area as an industrial development district.

That designation allows the Port to buy or lease land at the Snelling-Midway property if negotiations don’t proceed between the Minnesota United FC soccer team and center owner RK Midway. Part of the stadium would be located on land currently owned by RK Midway. The rest would be on the former bus garage site owned by Metro Transit and Metropolitan Council.

The Port’s action affects the shopping center property but not the old bus barn site.

superblock-photoImage left: It has only been a little over six months since the first conceptual illustrations of the “superblock” were unveiled. Of course, this is just a conceptualization…what it will finally look like after many years of development is still speculation. (Photo supplied)

Port President Lee Krueger characterized the action as a preemptive move, as did Board President Harry Melander. They said it doesn’t mean that the Port will redevelop the site, but will be ready if need be. Kruger said the Port has developed almost 80 similar districts over the years but didn’t do site development in many of them. He said other decisions for the RK Midway property would be made in the future if need be.

The Port has established similar districts in the past in the North End, Frogtown, West Side, West End and East Side neighborhoods. Most of have been for light industrial and office uses. None have been for the same type of office-retail-hospitality mixed envisioned at the Midway Center site.

Board and City Council members Dan Bostrom and Dai Thao expressed the most reservations about the district designation. Bostrom said he doesn’t want the Port to move in a direction different than what was agreed to earlier this year. A pact approved then has the Port leading environmental cleanup efforts and the city working with the soccer team and property owners on infrastructure.

Council Member Dan Bostrom, who is on the Port Authority’s board, said he did not anticipate that level of involvement from the city or Port Authority, which is a public agency, in the private development. He questioned whether the city was involved in a “bait-and-switch” deal. Thao shared Bostrom’s concerns about the level of potential public financing commitment.

But Krueger and others said the action should only be seen as an initial step. Any further actions to implement a district or spend money would have to come back to the board.

The Port is continuing to work on environmental cleanup of the property, said Monte Hilleman, Port Authority vice president. About $3 million has been found to clean up the old bus barn site.

As for the redevelopment of the center and soccer stadium construction itself, there are still more questions than answers. Gov. Mark Dayton indicated last month that a special legislative session, which would have included a tax break for construction materials and for the site, won’t happen. That pushes any action off to the 2017 session.

Team owner Bill McGuire hasn’t been saying much, other than that it is “too involved” and a complex project to move ahead. He told a Midway Chamber audience last month that he doesn’t want to conduct business “in the newspaper.”

Teams officials had hoped to break ground in May or June. That has been pushed back to an unknown date. The team still hopes to play at a new stadium in 2018.

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