Professional sports stadiums in the United States, as controversial as their funding mechanisms have become, have historically been transformative elements to their surrounding environment. They can induce a once fertile stretch of farm field to become clad with hot oil-fused asphalt for personal vehicles to lay, or can spawn dense, mixed-use communities which urbanists obsess about during their repeated happy hours and micro-apartment parties. The love-hate relationship with new stadiums, and their quasi-public-but-not-really-THAT-public status in their respective municipalities, could be quelled if every one of these new oval-shaped structures was paired with intelligent development patterns, promoted more environmentally-conscious transportation uses, and activated the ACTUAL public space around it.
And, since someone in those VIP MLS stadium location decision meetings read this blog and this article and decided to jump on the vast opportunity of the Midway Bus Barn site, I now only hope that they read this article, too. More important than the stadium itself is the surrounding built environment it manipulates. Minnesota’s Major League Soccer stadium will likely be the least monetarily controversial compared to our other publicly-funded athletic structure gaffes. However, it will be judged based not on its gameday atmosphere or architectural significance, but the environment it creates surrounding it.
So without further ado, this is the segue into the listicle of hot ticket items that I would like to see as part of the Bus Barn Site MLS Stadium:
1) District-Energized, Shared Space TOD
“Hark! If it isn’t a white male talking about transit-oriented development on an urbanist blog!”
In 2015, more and more knowledgable urban city officials expect well-designed development in their communities, and the private developers are following the call. Naturally, development around the Midway/Snelliversity MLS Stadium should be transit-oriented, should activate the public realm and should instigate healthy living practices. Development should be mixed-use, mixed-income and encourage vehicle-light activity. The RK Midway site directly north of the Bus Barn is now prime for a development opportunity, and United Properties is beginning to take a closer look.
However, this redevelopment shouldn’t just contain now commonplace TOD elements, but should attempt to push the envelope on innovative practices. The redevelopment should include “District Systems” which would allow separate buildings to share energy, parking, and stormwater infrastructures. Constructing district-based systems would streamline and optimize many otherwise tenacious separate use practices. District parking would reduce the necessary footprint for parking, and the various uses in the site would encourage parking habits at different times in a day (similar to how Target Field has been able to fill the ABC Ramps in summer evenings, where before they were structured wastelands after 5pm). District energy could see solar uses on rooftops, and would reduce individual buildings’ need for individual boilers, furnaces, or air conditioner units. Smart stormwater systems would irrigate new median boulevards and green space in the surrounding stadium areas, rather than having all contaminated rainwater pour back into natural water bodies. All of these elements need to be analyzed and seriously considered as the bulldozers roll in.
United Properties has recently stated they would like to develop office space as part of their development. While new office space is becoming more of a tasteful luxury in this region, I would challenge the company to take a closer look at building shared office spaces, similar to CoCo in Downtown and Uptown Minneapolis. Soccer fans in America tend to skew young and liberal, and nothing appeases an environmentally-conscious, cold press-sipping yuppies like 16-foot ceiling heights and a creativity-inducing, cubicle-lacking atmosphere. More importantly, shared work spaces are small business incubators, and could streamline start-ups from the diverse populations in the area. If someone were to build shared office space anywhere in the Twin Cities, this Midway site – next to a new soccer stadium – would likely be a top location.
2) Build Stadium Parking over Interstate 94
Ideally, a large majority of MLS gamegoers will take alternative modes of transportation to the Bus Barn stadium. Two significant transit lines – the METRO Green Line (actually faster than before!) and the A Line BRT (opening on a Snelling Avenue near you!) should encourage a more favorable mode split compared to other sporting events. That being said, not EVERYONE can bike or walk or take transit or Segway to soccer games, and inevitably those few top dogs from Wayzata and Stillwater will likely convene in the Bus Barn Stadium executive suite by using their automobiles.
Parking is an inevitable need, but we can and should be smart about it. Although more expensive than constructing a simple ramp on soil, parking over the interstate highway could significantly improve inward and outward event flow for stadium events, and would lessen the event-induced traffic impact to the surrounding neighborhoods. Modified ramps at the Snelling Avenue exit could circulate into the parking structure from both directions, similar to the B and C Ramps in downtown Minneapolis. If constructed well, these parking structures could include bridging elements, walkways and wayfinding markers that would better connect communities on the north and south sides of the Interstate 94 ravine.
3) Bike that Bridge, Connect the Midtown Greenway
Railroad companies in America are difficult to communicate and negotiate with. Look, I get it – business is business – but when you route massive oil-filled freight tankers through a very densely populated area, people are going to be raising eyebrows. That being said, the Bus Barn’s location, and its catalyzing activity, should warrant a closer look at re-opening talks with Canadian Pacific Railway, who owns the Short Line Bridge, and extending the Midtown Greenway across the Mississippi River to the new MLS Stadium.
This pedestrian & bicycle connection would be all sorts of amazing for the region! Saint Paul would gain instant bicycling cred, something it is strenuously seeking right now. Minnesota United enthusiasts in Minneapolis would be able to bike caravan straight to soccer games from pretty much anywhere in Minneapolis using the Short Line Bridge as the main connection. The “Midtown Greenway Extension” could then eventually extend to downtown Saint Paul, allowing more Saint Paul-ites to attend events via bikeway.
If we are going to seriously push for opening the Short Line Bridge to pedestrians and bicyclists, and construct the subsequent bike trail in the rail corridor, the implementation of a new soccer stadium at the Bus Barn site is a great catalyst.
4) I am not kidding – build the “MSP Observation Tower”
Some Minneapolis skyscraper fans are quite salty about the Duval letdown earlier this year. The Minneapolis/St. Paul region needs a new iconic structure to help bridge the two cities and reassert itself as a burgeoning world class city. To ensure this, why not construct a large observation tower at the Midway site next to the new MLS Stadium?
This MSP Tower could become the binding symbol for the Twin Cities, and would offer spectacular views of both skylines, the Mississippi/Minnesota River confluence, whatever action happens at the Ford Site, and basically any other area in the Metro region. Midway is essentially the geographic center of the MSP region, and this 700′ tall observation tower would highlight its geographic importance. This MSP Tower would be a much more urban international tourist destination than MOA. A skytop restaurant could generate additional revenue, and the tower itself would ensure that the Midway Stadium area would be a true year-round attraction rather than a go-to for 20 days a year.
Yeah, I understand this is a rather insane proposal for humble Minnesota, but honestly, more ambitious things have been proposed as of late (are you with me, Mark Ritchie and the EXPO 2023 gang?). Plus, I mean, Seattle has one too, so.
I am excited to see the Bus Barn and Midway area transform into the urban activity node it should be. Let’s make sure to make all stakeholders and money-holders that this eclectic & diverse area sees its full potential as a truly 21st Century hub.