As October began, demolition equipment was quickly crunching through the remains of Midway Center. Excavators smashed down walls, and carefully picked out and set aside metal. Parts of the structure were totally gone, to the ground, as the month began. Other areas were falling fast.
A demolition permit for the fire-damaged 1950s-era structure was issued Sept. 16, 2021. Demolition began Sept. 20. While area residents and business owners are pleased to see the structure removed, there are questions about future use of the space.
If the building is replaced with a parking lot, district council members and some neighbors want to make sure that isn’t a permanent change.
The Union Park District Council (UPDC) land use committee Sept. 20 reaffirmed its concerns about the parking lot and future development of the Midway Center superblock around the Allianz Field Major League Soccer stadium. The full council added its support Oct. 6.
Much of Midway Center was torn down a few years ago to make way for the stadium. The east wing at the southwest corner of University Avenue and Pascal Street remained, as did buildings along University. The shopping center and the Big Top Liquor store were looted and set ablaze during the civil unrest following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd.
The former Big Top building, which was built as a Perkins restaurant, was torn down in August.
Allianz Field builder Mortenson Construction hired Ramsey Companies out of Brooklyn Park to handle the demolition and clear the site.
The St. Paul City Council in August ordered the shopping center building to come down, following a legislative hearing. At that hearing a property representative indicated that the strip mall would be replaced with parking.
Parking is considered to be an interim plan. Five years ago the planning commission and city council approved a master plan to redevelop the block bounded by Pascal and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. A tax increment financing (TIF) plan was approved by the city council in August and goes to the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) Board this fall.
The master plan calls for park space extending from the stadium to University, apartments, retail and office space, and a hotel. Lack of progress on the plan has frustrated UPDC and Hamline Midway Coalition members. UPDC earlier this fall received an email from one Carroll Avenue neighbor wanting to see parking for fans on the Midway Center site, as a means of getting soccer fans’ vehicles off of neighborhood streets.
UPDC members said they want to see more than parking at the shopping center site, and want to know next steps for the United Villages at Midway development.
“Once something is approved, it’s hard to replace,” said land use committee member Roger Meyer. “Parking lots tend to become permanent.”
“While we reluctantly acquiesce to the parking lot proposal set forth by the owners of the property, we firmly recommend that the parking lot remain a temporary solution,” the UPDC letter stated. “More specifically, the parking lot should remain gravel, or other permeable surface, rather than paved from the standpoint of permanency. We request an annual review and update with UPDC to demonstrate the continuing need for this temporary parking lot.”
Improved maintenance is also sought, with the letter stating, “We recommend that the temporary parking lot be maintained, as well as the entire parcel as a significant portion of the parcel currently is unmaintained and an eyesore to the community and those traveling on the Green Line.”
UPDC is asking that the property owners assign a maintenance manager to the superblock, so that there can be a contact for any issues at the property and the adjacent right-of-way. the committee notes that the area is in a highly visible part of the neighborhood and the “centerpiece commercial district.”
A request for affordable housing at the property is restated, as is a request that locally owned small businesses be incorporated into the development plans, along with “pedestrian friendly streets, pathways, surfaces and building development to encourage environmentally proactive and sound practices and policies.”
The shopping center stood fenced off and boarded up for 16 months since it was looted and set ablaze. Some storefronts sustained extensive damage, while others had smoke and water damage.
The tenants were evicted in summer 2020. Four former tenants – Peking Garden, Golden Gate Café, Thien’s Cajun (Sweet Cajun) Boiling Seafood and Mimi’s Beauty Salon – sued in June, contending breach of contract, wrongful eviction and other charges. The lawsuit targets property lease holder Snelling-Midway Redevelopment, LLC., property owner and management company RD Management LLC.
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