A mix of skepticism and cautious optimism are greeting the talk of a fresh start for redevelopment of the longtime Midway Center superblock.
More than 60 people turned out Aug. 17, 2023 to hear Minnesota United team owner Bill McGuire outline the latest development scenario. He faced an array of questions about the newest plans.
McGuire is one of three development partners in the block bounded by Pascal Street and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. The others are M.A. Mortenson Co. of Golden Valley and longtime Midway Center owner RD Management.
He fielded questions about everything from a needed focus on local businesses and jobs, to demands that the owners do more to pick up trash and better maintain the entire block.
The meeting was hosted by Ward 4 Council Member Mitra Jalali, Union Park District Council and Hamline Midway Coalition. Jalali and district council leaders said they understand the frustration over the lack of development during the past seven years, and that they want the current plans to move ahead.
Jalali, whose ward borders the development block, said elected officials are committed to seeing the project through. “I see and hear you, and I really feel determined to make sure that we realize the potential of this development together,” she said.
The property is in Ward 1, which will have a new city council member elected this fall.
Some steps start soon. Environmental cleanup at the site starts this fall, with development underway as soon as next year. The developers go to the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Commission Sept. 14 to seek a recommendation of approval for a private ownership public space agreement for the plaza and playground.
More than $160 million in investment is planned in the months ahead. Development would have a local focus, with no chains and no “big box” stores. There could be as many as four to five restaurants spread out among the buildings planned in the first phase.
McGuire said the developers are committed to getting a project done. “All I can do is promise you that as long as I am doing this, I will stand by my commitment to what you’ve seen and try to do it,” said McGuire.
He also emphasized that there is a need to have a high-quality development that attracts investors.
COVID-19 AFFECTED SPEED OF DEVELOPMENT
The scaled-down redevelopment plans still call for a variety of uses, similar to the 2016 master plan that won St. Paul City Council approval. But McGuire noted that the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the development landscape, especially for office and commercial uses. That has meant scaled-back plans.
For example, a planned movie theater has been scrapped. McGuire said the developers worked with three theater companies. “They’re all out of business now.”
He also spoke of the financing challenges developers face, saying that environment is “extraordinarily difficult.”
Sculpture, playground coming in 2024
The first phases of development now include a four-story, 100,000-square-foot office building near the University-Snelling corner, a 158-room full-service hotel/restaurant/bar with parking ramp where McDonald’s is, a plaza at University and Snelling, two-building restaurant pavilion near the hotel, and an all-abilities playground east of the stadium along Pascal.
The playground equipment will be completed in March, and ready for installation. The playground has been designed by Landscape Structures, who did Madison’s Place in Woodbury. Like that one, the playground in United Village will be a fully inclusive playground designed to allow all children to play together regardless of their abilities. It is the first of its kind in St. Paul.
Minnesota United FC and two other tenants could occupy the planned office building. McGuire said at least two private investors are interested in being part of the office/retail development.
One focus is to improve conditions along Snelling and on Green Line light rail. McGuire describes the planned Snelling-University sculpture plaza as a “beacon.” Some audience members disagreed, as they questioned why anyone would want to visit a public space, at a noisy, busy corner. McGuire compared the coming sculpture being designed by an international artist as a piece like the Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean,” in Millennium Park one of Chicago’s most popular sights.
The developers are also in talks with the Minnesota Department of Transportation about cleaning up and maintaining land at Snelling and St. Anthony across from the stadium, to create a more welcoming gateway.
McGuire spoke of more use of the stadium, as concerts there are a future possibility. “The stadium cannot sit as empty as it does now,” he said.
The hotel will be owned by McGuire and will not be a chain. The company that designed Allianz Field, Populous, is part of the team designing the other buildings in United Village.
While some at the meeting liked what they saw, others questioned changes in the original plans. The Great Lawn green space north of the stadium was supposed to extend all the way to University. Now the northern part would become part of the hotel site. That change met some disappointment.
McGuire said there is a lack of hotel space between downtown St. Paul and the University of Minnesota area, and that area colleges and universities have asked for hotel space. Housing will be built in a later phase.