Four Necessities for the MLS Bus Barn Site

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.

Shared spaces (Source: CityPages)

CoCo Shared spaces (Source: CityPages)

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.

Parking over Interstate 94, mixed with transit, TOD, and maybe a Midtown Greenway(!!!) connection.

Parking over Interstate 94, mixed with transit, TOD, and maybe a Midtown Greenway(!!!) connection.

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.

Extend that Greenway!

Extend that Greenway!

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.

Like the Space Needle, the MSP Tower would be a major regional attraction, with TWO skyline views.

Like the Space Needle, the MSP Tower would be a major regional attraction, with TWO skyline views.


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.


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.

39 thoughts on “Four Necessities for the MLS Bus Barn Site

  1. Wayne

    As unexcited as I am for another sports stadium, these are all really good ideas and would actually get me pumped up about it.

    I really like the (sorta-wacky) observation tower at midway idea. It would provide views of both downtowns and give a different kind of draw to the area that could really catalyze a lot of the other change they’re pushing for. Kudos for thinking outside the box.

    1. Will Bildsten

      I agree 100%.

      If it is just a tower without significant special purpose, I’m not sure it should be.

      However, it has potential to be a true ‘center’ or rather’ ‘midway’ to our metro area that is isolated from the ‘Midwest.’

      How can it be that center? Can it be a hub for global ideas and innovation:
      A floor for agriculture byproducts, a floor for wind turbines, etc: giving each area of the economy with innovation potential a platform to come together to make such innovation happen, like a magnet?

  2. Keith Morris

    Love the tower idea and a harder push to extend the greenway out there. The only ajdustment that comes to mind is the parking cap from Snelling to Pascal. As you can see, the existing lot is a poor use of space especially considering the fact that Snelling north and south of here has lots commercial storefronts. Why not do a retail portion facing Snelling which would add a whole extra block of retail right off of Snelling Ave Station? This would also go a huge way in reconnectingneoghborhoods on both sides of 94. As for Pascal I don’t see retail being as important here since it’s not a commercial street aside from off of University, but this is that stretch and it’s close to stations at Hamline and Snelling. At least something to hide the sea of parking would help.

    1. Keith Morris

      I’ll just also add that it’s only a five minute walk from University and Snelling to the 94 bridge and that two retail cap portions would go towards adding two blocks which would be utilized everyday.

    2. Wayne

      Making the first floor of a parking ramp cap into retail is a great idea. Anything we can do to knit the two sides of the highway back together is a step in the right direction.

    3. Chris IversonChris Iverson Post author

      I’m always a huge fan of active use highway lids (see MPR story last year), and Snelling would be an optimal place to put it. I am concerned, however, about MnDOT’s reluctance with both 94 and Snelling (TH51) being official trunk highways. If parking over I-94 gains traction, we should push for it regardless of realistic expectations.

      Then again, I did propose a massive observation tower, so I suppose “realistic expectations” aren’t necessarily crazy in this context

  3. Anne WhiteAnne White

    Great post! Great ideas! I hope this will be made part of the background materials provided to the City’s Midway Center Community Advisory Committee (CAC) that is being formed.

    It will also be important to include the ideas that have been gathered by a Task Force that was set up in March by the Union Park District Council, before the prospect of a soccer stadium hit the media. Under the leadership of Eric Molho, the Task Force is focused on the entire 35-acre super-block. At a community meeting in August, through an online survey, and in outreach to groups and individuals whose views are seldom included in planning discussions, we have been asking people what types of development they would like to see in the Midway Shopping Center.

    As Union Park’s Task Force continues to gather the views of those whose voices are usually missing from the conversation, and urban visionaries like Chris Iverson put forward bold ideas, my hope is that the CAC will be made up of representatives with many diverse perspectives, who are committed to working to ensure that the developer(s) and the City take full advantage of this development opportunity, while also addressing concerns about the impacts that a new, vibrant, high-traffic urban center may have on the adjacent neighborhoods.

    Thanks again, Chris, for your ideas. I hope this is just the first of many articles that will stretch our imaginations and challenge us to make the most of a time and place where the stars are aligned for significant investment in a catalytic project.

  4. cobo Rodreges

    Putting Parking over I-94 is a very very expensive idea.. The parking ramp could cost more than the stadium its self.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Putting it not over the highway comes with significant opportunity costs of not making higher-value use of that land you put it on.

      Which is not to say that the numbers work out. I have no idea.

    2. Chris IversonChris Iverson Post author

      Parking over I-94 would have to include sunk costs into the development figures and would have to prove consistent use (MLS parking, State Fair parking, Hamline/college parking, etc) in order to be feasible. It’s been done before with the B and C ramps in Minneapolis and in other areas of the country, so cost shouldn’t be a fatal flaw right away.

  5. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    The parking over the highway could have its access underneath it directly to the highway, surface lots would need to have the local streets upgraded (a cost) to handle their game day induced flood of cars to get to the highway. The ramp parking would be shared with any offices, so I can see wanting to get any extra use out of the investment that would go into car storage. If it isn’t obvious yet, any parking structure built here would be a perfect remote lot for the State Fair for a couple weeks just to get a little bit more use from it.

    Maybe there aren’t that may commuters into Concordia, Hamline, or Macalester, but this is kind of centrally located to them all, at the freeway entrance most would take to get to them. Maybe a campus circulator to each campus from any parking structure could get some more use during the off season? Just throwing out stuff here…

    1. Moe

      Speaking of the Fairgrounds, I’ve always wondered why that site is never talked about for non Fair related events. Even parking there and taking a shuttle to the stadium wouldn’t be a horrible idea

      1. Dave P

        I know the State Fair lots are used for University of Minnesota Football games. This is because they are one of the few places you can tailgate without paying a huge amount of money.

        Seems like a reasonable place for the soccer stadium as well. If tailgating and shuttles were allowed there I’d think there would be decent demand.

  6. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    Some of the best discussion that I’ve seen on what is possible and necessary for successful development. I would love the observation tower, especially if it were a revolving rooftop restaurant. The freeway cap for parking has always been an idea that I think many support. The idea of putting retail or business on the main level is an interesting thought that seems worthy of further exploration. Underground parking would also be feasible, in my opinion, especially since the lots are going to be dug up during the development of the area.

  7. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Whether this turns out well or poorly is going to depend almost entirely on what they do about parking. If they ring the new stadium in new parking, it’s going to be a massive miss.

    To me, the less parking the better (and a plus of the Minneapolis site was proximity to existing structured parking), and what you must build should be over the freeway, as Chris says.

  8. Matty LangMatty Lang

    I totally support the parking over the freeway. I’m also intrigued by Monica’s mention of underground structured parking. Since the freeway itself is below grade, would there be a way to design direct access to underground parking?

    My grand idea has always been to tunnel the Snelling through traffic between University and the freeway.

  9. Jim

    I don’t believe building ramps over I-94 is all that expensive as some would immediately think. You’re simply building a tall ramp over the freeway ground. You’d have to close traffic on one side much like a side of University was closed for light rail construction. Once you’ve built the bottom level, say about 25’ above the freeway for traffic clearance, you can wrap the construction in a cocoon netting and keep building up safely with the traffic resuming underneath. See NYC skyscrapers for this technique. A ramp isn’t a complicated structure. Floors can be built fairly rapidly. Doing one side of the freeway at a time will always allow some traffic to continue. There may be some weekend closures here and there. But I really think the idea is more doable than critics may suggest.

  10. Bill LindekeBill LindekeModerator  

    I’m open minded about a freeway cap, I suppose. I don’t think there’s as much parking need as you suggest. The Spruce Tree ramps across the street are almost empty most of the day. Maybe a “parking lot park” or some nonsense, but there are probably better freeway cap locations out there.

    I’m also wary of a tower. Do we need it? The space needle at the fairgrounds once a year is good enough for me.

    But the greenway is an awesome idea that should have happened years ago but for the intransigence of the railroad. District energy would be awesome if someone can find the money. And I appreciate you raising the bar with big ideas!

          1. Eric

            The Minnesota Commercial Railway uses Short Line Bridge once a day to serve the last remaining grain elevators along Hiawatha Avenue. Not sure how long that will last but lets not pretend the railroad has already abandoned the line.

            If/when the Midtown Greenway is extended, please have consideration for the freight railroads still going through there, as well as consider the possibility of the railway corridor being used for light rail or regional rail in the future. We don’t need another Southwest LRT debacle.

    1. Matty LangMatty Lang

      Bill makes a good point about the amount of parking needed. McGuire was quoted in the Finance and Commerce article yesterday stating that he wants to rely on transit and biking and that minimal new parking would be needed.

      Let’s hope that that’s what happens, but if there is to be new structured parking I’d like to see it over the freeway or underground with direct connections to the freeway rather than taking up space that could be used in a better way than storing cars. It’s worth the extra cost.

  11. Jim

    I’d also propose transit centers on either side of Snelling between St. Anthony Ave and Shields Ave. A pedestrian bridge over Snelling would be a big plus. Something similar in design to the one over Hiawatha or the proposed Bruce Vento trail bridge.

  12. Will Bildsten

    I disagree with a platform to cover the freeway. First of all, it’s expensive. Second of all, parking can be more spread out and use shuttles.

    Most importantly: development could boom, giving us truly a third downtown. That is less possible if the freeway, which separates the midway area which needs a unique opportunity such as this to maximize private sector growth, connects the upcoming Midway to the more established areas below where more would likely already want to live.

    A case study: I am a Minneapolitan and biased to the city, but Lowertown is far more attractive (feels like wealthy Lower Manhattan) than the so-so North Loop, which is getting development due to being close to jobs and being in a more desirable city.

    All government policies must maximize potential for Midway’s private sector-led growth.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Wait, what? You’re arguing that the Midway will develop more if it’s kept cut off from the more established areas to the south?

      I mean, I’m not expert, but that sounds exactly backward to me. Not only would a better connection to already-appealing areas seem to promote Midway growth, so to not being to obviously adjacent to an ugly, smelly, noisy freeway.

      1. Will Bildsten

        I think it should be connected at the right time, but if it is connected right away, the development would shift all south of 35. I think it’s a matter of timing to maximize urban growth in less desirable areas for developers who would be building relatively upscale housing and commercial units (as no developer can afford to build affordable housing or commercial space.)

  13. joan pasiuk

    A land bridge over 94 at Snelling — yes!! But with the goal of connecting neighborhoods more than providing parking. There is opportunity to leverage the development interests into some real wins that benefit residents every day. A tower or significant point of interest — nothing industrial — a cluster of giant tree structures with a solarpowered treehouse garden/restaurant and connecting walk bridges. And the Greenway extension would be the icing on the cake. Exciting to think about possibilities. A loss resulting from prospective development — discount shoe and clothing stores that currently serve the neighborhood. How can we reduce retail gentrification?

  14. Jennifer Cannon

    I think development for parking should be minimal. Focus on other modes of transportation. The Green Line is right there and having safe bike/ped access is more critical than parking for the few muckity-mucks who can’t get out of their carcoons. Perhaps their drivers can drop them off. Tower is a fun idea but not if it costs the stadium. Midway has tons of potential, always has. The development focus should be on the needs/wants/support of the existing demographic with an eye to the soccer fan demographic. It would be sad to see the current residents and small business owners take a hit (again, perhaps) in the name of progress.

  15. Mikey

    Free idea for any parking ramp lid: include median BRT ramps into it from 94. I’m thinking something like the orange line’s Lake St Station, only the buses would travel up into the ramp, then back down to the freeway

  16. Cameron Slick

    I almost pissed my pants laughing when you said
    “Re-opening talks with Canadian Pacific Railway, who owns the Short Line Bridge”. They are completely intransigent when it comes to doing anything good for the public at large, even though we only run 3 round-trip trains per day on this corridor east of the Commercial yard.

  17. Renee

    You gotta quit it with the “Snelliversity” thing. Terrible name!

    I agree strongly about district parking and stormwater (though energy probably won’t make sense), but your head is in the clouds on this parking ramp over I-94 thing. I’m sure it’s physically possible. I’m equally as sure that there is zero possibility of this being ever paid for by anyone (Pohlads? Not a chance. St Paul? Nope. MNDOT? Heck no. If you have $100M you’re not using, you can call my bluff). I’d rather see a normal parking ramp at a normal cost, built with flat floors and designed intentionally so that if future parking demand decreases, floors of parking could be converted to occupiable space, starting with the top. That would be a great, and potentially economically possible, solution.

    The tower is fun. Also probably not gonna happen, but you should keep pushing for that one!

    1. Will Bildsten

      No one needs $100M. They just need to get an ultra-low interest business loan (which Pohlads could get without a meeting) to build the thing, and then recuperate the 2%-or-whatever-of-prinicipal very quickly with the radical increase in land value, on top of the tenants’ top-dollar leases. So they’d get a return of multiples of their debt interest and pay off the principal much, much later, as it makes less sense to do so with cheap interest. The property developers really have it good, in other words.

  18. Minnesotanance

    Good ideas! While we’re transforming Midway and the area near the proposed stadium, could we get a major arts grant to re- tile Spruce Tree Center with a huge mosaic mural? It could become a great building for the area.

  19. Bill Connell

    I’m happy for any reason to push again for the Greeway extension, it would be a perfect fit for the project. I live in Midway and work downtown, and would use this for bike commuting all the time.

    I’m fine with parking & plaza space over 94, but realistically, this would mainly be for parking, not community connections. There’s just a sliver of neighborhood to the south of the site before your hit the rail line, and much of that is commercial/industrial space. Just west of Snelling where it would connect residential areas makes less sense as a parking structure. I don’t know what the best answer is, but having dense parking near the other transit options and convenient to the highway would help encourage use outside of game days (State Fair, etc.).

    We have some good momentum building new transit and pedestrian patterns in the Midway, and rebuilding RK Midway into a ped-friendly district would really cement this shift long-term.

  20. Tim

    Covering the interstate makes sense, but instead of parking, why not a green space? Duluth and Seattle both employ these, and would act as a connector for the two halves fo St Paul.

    While the location is midway between the downtowns, it is also the halfway line of St Paul, a proverbial Mason-Dixon of the affluent southern part of the city and the poorer section. Using green space, or retailed as was mentioned above, would help bridge the city itself, and provide carbon sinks (fingers crossed) for some of the traffic and congestion in the area.

Comments are closed.