Put the MLS Stadium on the Snelling-University Bus Barn Site

I don’t know about you all, but I was certainly starting to feel a teeny bit restless that someone somewhere wasn’t proposing dropping 9 digits of money on some quasi-public stadium in Minnesota. After all, we were on a clip there for a while where a new stadium was going up about every 3 years, and come 2015 AD, it was feeling like We the People were going to be let down.

But alas! Earlier this year, we witnessed the ironic marriage of a health insurance company ex-CEO (who left in the midst of controversy) and a globally loved sport (whose international governing body was found to be corrupt last week). And some interest in football (soccer) led to a grand pursuit to build another sport-specific stadium.

I’m sure you’ve heard the headlines, how McGuire only wants tax breaks, how Minneapolis Mayor Hodges doesn’t like it, how Jacob Frey is playing mediating Switzerland, blah blah blah. We’ve heard it before. Stadium controversies in Minneapolis are so early-2010s.

Meanwhile, St Paul is suddenly cool! From potential bike loops to a new Saints Ballpark to hipster zip codes to buzzwords like “hip”, the eastern Twin City is suddenly coming out of its shell and finding the confidence to ask someone other than Minneapolis to prom.

Then, this MinnPost article got me thinking.

So here is the idea of the century: instead of going through the seasoned ritual of Minneapolis stadium fanatics, place the stadium in St. Paul instead. And I’m not talking downtown–there probably isn’t enough good space for a large stadium right now that wouldn’t tear down at least one beautiful old building. Rather, place it on that big swath of bus barn land near Snelling & University.

The bus barn site, its like Goldilock's baby bear porridge. Sorry, poort analogy, I will try harder next time

The bus barn site, it’s like Goldilock’s baby bear porridge. Sorry, poor analogy, I will try harder next time.

Here is why:

1) It’s already non-taxed land

The bus barn site is a massive swath of land just to the southeast of the University and Snelling supernode. For decades, it was used as a main trolley car barn for Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company, and is currently owned by Metro Transit. The Met Council & The City of St. Paul recently completed a development analysis on the site and found that yes, it could redevelop but yes, it needs lotza parking, because everyone all the time needs more parking everywhere.

I’ve heard and am aware of the passionate desire to put some true tax base on this site, but placing the MLS stadium as desired by Dr. McGuire would be a technical “net zero” change from today’s condition. In the context of today’s tax levies, nobody really loses, and the Snelliversity neighborhood wins a stadium that can be used almost 3x more than an NFL Stadium equivalent in a year.

Century Link Field in Seattle

Century Link Field in Seattle, looks legit from said vantage point

And about that tax base? That leads to my second point:

2) Amazing redevelopment potential around it

Snelliversity has so much potential, but currently it’s swarmed with strip malls galore and an infamous pool tile structure. The TOD plan is nice, as master plans should be, but any development on the bus barn site by itself would still have to deal with the fact that it’s still next to strip malls galore and across from an infamous pool tile structure. Oh yeah, and there is also a freeway adjacent to it, too.

Gotta love Spruce Tree

Gotta love Spruce Tree Centre

What I’m getting at is, any development in this site directly will take a long time to appear. If you add a stadium, suddenly those strip mall property owners see their development value skyrocket with a decently used amenity, and development appears before the year 2050. Place the stadium on the bus barn site and construct parking over the interstate like the ABC Ramps in Minneapolis (connect it with the planned I-94 managed lane project slated to begin in a couple of years?) and you still have more than half of the block open for development. Now the stadium has suddenly blocked the strip malls from the interstate, and voila! Valuable large parcels appear, ripe for mixed-use.

There is definitely some innate value in putting a large quasi-civic building next to something that people don’t really enjoy being by, such as an interstate highway. It kind of has the same storyline as “Let’s put an MLB ballpark next to a garbage burner, and maybe a blood marrow donor non-profit will move in sometime soon or something.”

Literally an MLB stadium is behind this, thats pretty great (Image from TC Daily Planet)

Literally an MLB stadium is behind this; that’s pretty great (Image from TC Daily Planet)

3) Opening-day transit connections

Oh yeah, did you hear that there is a light rail line, currently in operation, that runs right near here? Good transit service could be ready by the first MLS game, instead of maybe 2020 or 2021 or 2121! There is also this neat BRT line on Snelling that will be operational next year, so that’s also a cool thing.

4) Diverse neighborhood on the rise

Unbeknownst to many Americans, football (soccer) is the most popular sport in the world. This area of St. Paul–specifically nearby Frogtown–has a rich and diverse multicultural population that might crave professional football (soccer) games more than industrial loft-dwelling yuppie IPA drinkers in the North Loop.

5) Other perks

On top of the immediate benefits of putting it near Snelliversity, think of the imaginative solutions that could arise around the area! In honor of the MN United team name, this locale could be renamed “UnitedTown”, and could rival Uptown in a more team-spirited-spun way. I’m also thinking someone somewhere could built an observation tower nearly 1,000 feet high that would feature an observation deck, a five-star taproom, and Juicy Lucy sliders. Think Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz, but less German and more MSPian.

Minneapolis skyline could be in the foreground of this picture! St Paul skyline could be behind it!

Minneapolis skyline could be in the foreground of this picture! St Paul skyline could be behind it!

So, these are ideas. And ideas are where everything starts. Leave your ideas in the comments below! (But try not to thread too much for our readers’ sake.)

Chris Iverson

About Chris Iverson

Chris Iverson is a transportation engineer & planner for the City of Bellevue, WA and currently lives in Seattle. He holds degrees in both Civil Engineering & Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota, and worked on a myriad of transit & multimodal transportation projects in the Twin Cities. He is a former Minnesota Daily columnist, RAGBRAI participant, bad musician, marathon finisher, and an unabashed generalist.

41 thoughts on “Put the MLS Stadium on the Snelling-University Bus Barn Site

  1. bq

    Chris, are you aware that McGuire and Rogers checked into this site early on and were basically told no. I’ve also talked to councilman Stark and others about this and I don’t think it’s at all what they have in mind for this plot of land. They are hoping for more development and higher density. Not something that creates more auto traffic in an area already choked with cars. 46 K cars pass over Snelling daily at I-94. Snelling and University is riddled with accident and we are trying to make Snelling Avenue more walkable.

    I’m a huge supporter of MN United and their stadium proposal. Hell, I’d even like the stadium to be in St. Paul. I’m a resident who sits on the Union Park Land Use Committee who have heard and participated in many of the discussion about the RK Midway property and Met Council Bus Barn site, but this is not the appropriate place for the stadium. It’s a really bad idea.

    1. Chris IversonChris Iverson Post author

      I get that everyone wants higher density here, which is great – I’m always in support of well-designed density! I just kind of have this opinion about it:


      If developed correctly, the area could increase walkability AND accommodate the higher vehicle load while making the surrounding parcels more desirable. Like Eric said below, the freeway cap as a parking ramp might soak up much of the projected traffic from the stadium.

      1. bq

        So the freeway cap has been discussed previously in neighborhood discussions. While that would be cool, perhaps those more knowledgable then me can explain what the law is, but I thought if this was done there had to be an alternative route for trucks hauling combustible material etc… . Where do you propose those vehicles reroute to in an area that is one of the worst in the city for auto emissions and traffic and has the two most dangerous intersections in the state for accidents at Snelling and Concordia and Snelling and St. Anthony?

        1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

          What do you think the freeway cap proposed over 35W by Washington Ave in downtown Minneapolis was going to handle those vehicles? I think you latched onto one challenge as if it would necessarily kill a project. Freeway caps have been built all over the country with that same problem. It adds some to the cost, but I believe the hurdle is just to add sufficient ventilation.

    2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      As evidenced by the master plan’s call for parking, so much so in fact that site funding would fall $22-31 million short of “required” parking infrastructure, I can’t imagine an MLS stadium choking the area with cars any more than other developments would.

    3. B-Dubs

      I’d take that comment more seriously if it wasn’t from a guy who mounted a campaign against a Buffalo Wild Wings going into an empty storefront a few blocks south on Snelling.

      Like the proposed Minneapolis site, people are hoping for private development that pays full freight on its property taxes. Never mind that those sites have been vacant/underused for decades and that there is no other planned development for either site. Just keep saying no to actual development projects until something else magically appears

      1. bq

        Two entirely different issues here but hey, thanks for bringing that up and stating inaccuracies. Yes, I was against it and still think it was a poor choice of locations to plop a chain restaurant that fries thousands of pounds of food per year and then dumps that sludge and order into the neighborhood with houses just 30 feet away. We are lucky because B-Dubs have been good neighbors after we got them to make some concessions to lesson the burden on the neighborhood. The smell is still awful and your inaccuracy is that the ugly strip mall was never at any time over the previous 5 years sitting empty. The owners got a better deal from B-Dubs and pushed Cheapo out. But hey, why be accurate about any of this.

        We are just starting to work with the Met Council and RK Midway to start working on subdividing the property So RK Midway with direction from the cry and Met Council can start getting placing some north/south streets into the property. RK Midway hopes to start development at the corner of University and Snelling and work toward the freeway. The concept is higher density towards the light rail with retail that might bring more auto traffic toward I-94. A committee has recently commenced to help with suggestions for the area.

        The parking is definitely an issue but the issue but that’s not a city issue, so I’ve been told. The issue is with those who take risk and loan money for such properties. They won’t touch development unless certain standards are set, like a parking spot for every apartment/unit.

        1. B-Dubs

          Nonsense – Cheapo moved everything across the street long before the B-Dubs got approved.

          I’m not surprised you would try to distort the facts given the history. The so-called neighborhood group that opposed the B-Dubs censored all dissenting opinions from its Facebook page, resulting in pro B-Dubs (or just not anti-development) neighbors starting their own page for those who got banned. It was about the most dishonest thing I’ve ever seen. Fortunately the City saw through that dishonesty and approved something the neighborhood wanted and is patronizing.

          Oh, you’ve got a committee looking into the bus site? Construction should be starting any day.

          1. mplsjaromir

            I tried watching game 1 of the NBA Finals last night at the Snelling B-Dubs, lets just say that the restaurant is very well patronized. A huge asset to the neighborhood.

            1. B-Dubs

              The arguments against contained the classic combination of 1) nobody wants it here and 2) too many people will come to it.

          2. Colin Fesser

            Nonsense. I dissented. I supported BWW at numerous committee meetings, and was even invited to become a moderator of the group you’re complaining about despite that. Dissenting opinions were never censored – only rude ones and trolls.

            1. B-Dubs

              One person’s dissenter is another’s troll. And the rudest people were the B-dubs opponents – lots of anti-suburb snobbery and bashing of college students as not real residents of the neighborhood. There were a few rude comments, but a lot of good comments got swept away because of the wholesale banning of dissenters.

              These guys claimed they spoke for the whole neighborhood, even though no one asked if they could speak for me. And when I objected, I was banned along with numerous others who were being similarly misrepresented. It was censorship at its worst, and fortunately that was made clear to the City’s decision-makers.

              The hearing I went to was hilarious. I remember one woman saying that area residents were more interested in granola than chicken wings, and that someone should open a vegan restaurant there. One old guy was worried that people were going to look out the B-Dubs window and into his windows and see him in his underwear. You can’t make this stuff up.

              The anti-B-dubs crowd are the absolute worst of St. Paul, and the last thing I want to see is similarly unreasonable and dishonest people kill something like the soccer stadium in St. Paul if that becomes an option

          3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

            I like the B-Dubs AND I agree with bq. The Cheapo was on both sides of Snelling for a long time, tapes one side, CDs on the other.

            But if anyone thinks a CD store went out of business because of real estate pressure, they’re not paying attention to music technology. The Blockbuster on Grand closed too, btw.

              1. B-Dubs

                The changes – which B-Dubs agreed to, were a good thing. The hysteria, the claims of speaking for the whole neighborhood, the censorship, the dishonesty – were all awful. The behavior of those groups give neighborhood activists a bad name, and undermine the cause of neighborhood activists with legitimate issues.

                The B-Dubs fight is over (there really wasn’t a fight since the opposition was such a joke) but what happened there is relevant when the same people weigh in on a current issue. When you come from a position of taking unreasonable and dishonest opposition to development projects, your opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. It would be no different for someone unabashedly pro-development. There is nothing ad hominem about that.

  2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    It’s in walking distance of the hot Snelby and Snelling intersection.

    A future freeway cap over 94 would open up more developable spaces and being near this stadium on the bus barn site would make development that much more attractive. The freeway cap could be a place for a parking ramp for the stadium so we aren’t using up more easier developable land for surface parking.

  3. Craig Foster

    Maybe we can recreate or move the Spruce Tree Center façade to one of the gates and avoid any calls for investigating the historic value of the site and preserving Snelling and University. It’ll be like the trolley gate at the State Fair

  4. mplsjaromir

    MLS seems best suited for St. Paul. It really embodies the spirit of the city.

  5. Scott

    The picture of the stadium you posted is centers link field in Seattle, NOT Providence Park in Portland…. Not surprising that someone advising others on sport at stadiums, literally knows nothing about sports stadiums….

  6. mplsjaromir

    Someone needs to fix the title of this article. Do not use the definite article “the” before referring to Major League Soccer. It should read “MLS” not “The MLS”, I found this out the hard way.

    1. simeon

      Soccer fans are idiotically touchy about ‘the.’ But in this case, the ‘the’ refers to the stadium, not ‘the’ MLS. Like one might say, The Minneapolis Stadium, but it would be silly to say the Minneapolis.

      1. Rog

        I’m sure NFL fans wouldn’t mind if the entire press called it “an” NFL or “the” MLB…every single time it was mentioned. I’m sure not a single person would note it nor complain..

    2. ae_umn

      I know this is meant to be a little snarky, but you can use “the” in this case since MLS is only a modifier.

  7. Matty LangMatty Lang

    As a Hamline Midway resident, I say do it! I have little hope that the bus barn site will see redevelopment anytime soon being wedged between the I-94 and Snelling through traffic sewers. Give McGuire property tax breaks for a period of time, not forever, and maybe even let him back date a few payments as well. 😉

    I love how this could be a buffer between the freeway and high density TOD fronting University and Snelling. If designed correctly, perhaps the stadium parking could also serve to meet perceived needed retail parking for the greater redevelopment.

  8. Andrew B

    It makes me sad to say this, but a stadium would really make that area more attractive.

  9. Tom G

    I have argued that the Saints ballpark should have been built on the southeastern portion of the Midway Center site (the area next to the Bus Barn site that the city had an option to purchase until November of last year), for a lot of the reasons that folks have talked about here: lots of parking, tailgating opportunities, freeway access, a neighborhood-friendly venue that would not overwhelm the neighborhood, etc. However, if the city built the ballpark, the Saints would have been a tenant and the city allowed to capture the ad revenue, naming rights, etc.–not the lopsided deal we gave the Saints. So, while in principle, it’s worth talking about a soccer stadium for the Bus Barn site, it will not work. Why? Because there is no way that McGuire and associates can build a stadium and make it work financially–unless the city it willing to provide so many property tax breaks that will further cripple the city’s ability to expand its property tax base. I know we like to think that stadiums spur development and create jobs in the community, but every economist who has studied the issue for the past 40 years has found otherwise. It will certainly shift spending in the city around such that a certain number of folks will attend soccer games rather than baseball games, but the net benefit to the city is pretty much cancelled out. Compared to a stadium, BWW was actually a better deal for the city because (to my knowledge), no tax breaks were provided and presumably at least some living wage jobs were created. That will not happen with the Saints ballpark (other than the construction jobs, which essentially were paid for through a huge city subsidy–our tax dollars) in spite of more people in Lowertown and it will not happen with a soccer stadium, either–if the McGuire group builds it. I guarantee that if the city gets into serious negotiations with the McGuire group, they will never pay for the entire cost of the stadium as they claim and we will again end up with a terribly lopsided deal like the Saints ballpark in which the Saints put up $1.5 million cash in return for the rights to all the advertising, concession, ticket, and other event revenue. Now, if the city wants to look at an arrangement where it builds the stadium and controls the ad revenue–or extracts enough revenue from events to cover the cost of the stadium, fine. But that will never happen because McGuire and assoc. will need that money to fund operations. Stadiums are always slippery slopes, and whenever communities get in bed with team owners–no matter how rosy the scenario and the “development opportunities,” we lose. McGuire didn’t get wealthy through generosity, and beware the billionaire bringing forward gifts. In the end, the only gifts will be what we give away in development opportunities and tax base–something the city has already done a terrible job with the past 20 years.

    1. B-Dubs

      B-Dubs didn’t ask for or get any tax breaks, zoning changes, or anything at all other than the granting of the liquor license, which was routine. There wasn’t any legal basis to stop B-Dubs from opening in that space. I only brought it up because some people are going to oppose any project, no matter how reasonable.

      Even though the Saints got public money for construction (and St. Paul got royally hosed on that deal) in the current climate, actual stadium money is a non-starter. As for the property tax break, that site hasn’t generated property taxes for decades, if ever. Like the Minneapolis site – which now generates about $70K per year for the city – its the building of the stadium that creates the taxable value. Without the stadium, there are no taxes on that site.

      The counter to that is that at some point (at both sites) there may be development that would generate property taxes. That might be valid in Minnespolis, but does anyone honestly think the bus site will be developed anytime soon. No one is going to want to live at Snelling and 94. It is a perfect place for a stadium, though – right on the freeway and the light rail.

      The counter to the counter is that the stadium may generate development. There is construction all around Target Field now. Even with a soccer stadium off the property tax rolls, we may see increased revenue from the resulting nearby development.

      Sports stadiums don’t make economic sense when they involve big construction subsidies. But tax breaks – which are used in all kinds of development are a different story.

        1. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

          Exactly. And unbeknownst to many in the city, many people already live by Snelling and 94 in both apartments and single family homes. And they love it. I, like Tom, advocated for the Saints stadium there and would love to see a soccer stadium there. I’m glad to see more people seriously writing about this, both here and in MinnPost.

          1. B-Dubs

            Let me clarify my statement:

            The problems with that site (next to freeway and busy exit/cross street) and impact on property values make it nearly impossible to develop housing there. People might want to live there, but you won’t get enough value for the housing to make development worthwhile. The existing housing, which was built long ago, has pretty limited value, even if the residents love it.

            I’m not ripping the neighboorhood – I used to live a few blocks away. I’m saying the difficulty in developing housing there makes it a good site for a stadium, which it sounds like you support. Being near a freeway is a plus for a stadium.

            1. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

              Yes, I agree that the stadium makes sense. There is great potential at that site if people involved in planning actually want to look large rather small visions. There is room, in my opinion, for a stadium, a hotel, the already in place shopping, light industrial jobs, and for housing, I think one of the best options is student housing given the hub that the area is. It is centrally located and connected via transit to many of the area colleges. (and given the often identified need for student housing, that type of housing might be successful and beneficial to the neighborhood. It was even the type of housing originally identified in the University United site plan.)

  10. Rob

    I’ve said it before on other forums and I’ll say it here.

    Much bigger plot of land. On light rail line. Great views of downtown. Better junction for car traffic/parking.

    The bus barn site is too small.

      1. KO

        Honestly, they really don’t. There is a state concern in losing the Sears parking lot, which is now mostly a lot used by MNDOT and some legislative employees. But there are certainly no plans for it.

        I seem to remember some housing plans popping up here and there due to proximity to the LRT stop at the Capitol, but nothing ever happened.

  11. Ed

    I am a homeowner in Hamline Midway and also agree with many others that the MN united stadium if build here will be a massive asset to the area. They have sold out all their home games this season and would bring in 10-20k people for home games, more than the new saints stadium.To sit and wait for some other large retail development to appear without some real large large scale investment is unrealistic.

    The fact its so close to the freeway and a light rail stop makes it a great choice.

    This is a terrific opportunity that will be a massive win for St .Paul and major Coleman.

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