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.