Lowertown, Saint Paul, the heart of the old city. Warehouses and factories, built long before my arrival on the scene, being lived in by artists and the “creative class“. The most hipster zip code in America. And home to the new Saint Paul Saints‘ new stadium, CHS Field. This side of downtown has desperately tried to rid Saint Paul of the “closed after business hours” nightlife seen in the core of the city, and has had some success in creating a solid bar and restaurant scene.
However, both Saint Paul and Minneapolis have this issue with their downtowns, where the freeways encircle the entire district. Cut off from expanding east by freeways and a nature sanctuary, Lowertown needed something to say “That’s it, we’re done! Thanks for coming, now turn around and get another drink at The Bulldog,” and preferably not the underside of the Lafayette Bridge. CHS Field fits this duty perfectly.
I was in Lowertown just the other day, partaking in the “World’s Largest Game of Catch“, which quickly became the world’s largest gathering of minor league baseball players pelting each other with foam filled softballs. While the block party was fun and the pig was named Pablo Pigasso, the real treat was meandering the stadium as the Saints thought about practicing.
The thing that struck me most about the stadium was exactly how close it was to the freeways. In site plans and maps I always thought that the areas seemed so close because of construction and there would be a few hundred feet between the concourse and the I-94 entrance ramps, but indeed, they are very close.
This proximity made me think, what else could possibly have gone here. The Saints have always had utilitarian surroundings to their stadium (train), and nestling so closely to the freeway will likely not be an issue for fans or the team, but what if the Diamond Products/Gillette building had been torn down and become an office building? Or redeveloped as more 6-floor lofts? Would either use have accomplished as much as CHS Field? Residential redevelopment is almost assuredly out of the realm of possibility due to the freeway proximity, and I saw signs saying “27,000 sqft of office space available” from the stadium, so this might not be the best idea either.
While parking will be discussed at length, as well as if baseball and the arts are able to play nicely together, CHS Field will bring people to Lowertown on a regular basis. These people will have to walk by bars and restaurants to get to Sister Rosalind’s wonderful massages, there is gallery space in the ballpark, and it signifies that this is it, that’s all there is to see, without being imposing. CHS Field injects energy into Lowertown for at least 1/7 (~50/365) of the year, and insulates the district from the detrimental effects of nearby freeways. A stadium probably was actually the best use for the site.
Now only if we had spent the money for bird safe glass…