Where will Minnesota United FC fans park? That question promises to be with us for a while. Brian Quarstad and Alex Schieferdecker examine where fans will park, and why Midway redevelopment the site plan doesn’t seem to provide it.
“But what about the parking?”
Brian: The question of parking is one we’ve seen a lot recently on discussion boards, Facebook, Twitter, and all the usual social media suspects. More specifically, “where will I park if I want to go to a Minnesota United game at their new stadium located in the Midway area of St. Paul?” It’s a legitimate question for a lot of people. The team’s target markets are urban millennials and city dwelling first and second generation immigrants, groups who will welcome the ability to get to games via alternative modes of transportation. However, not everyone attending an event at the Midway stadium will be from the city or in that target market.
So first, let’s get a better understanding about parking, its ‘true cost’ to city taxpayers and developers alike. Then we will start to look at viable parking options around the stadium. There are a lot more than you probably think. Last summer I did a study on what I called ‘underutilized parking’ near the proposed stadium. In fact there is most likely ample parking within one half mile of the stadium in an east or west direction. A half mile is about the same distance as one would have had to walk if the stadium was built at the Farmers Market using the two large parking garages nearby. Lastly we will look at park & ride alternatives that could easily be designed for the stadium on event days.
Parking is expensive
Alex: There are two reasons why the Midway site plan likely does not call for additional parking facilities. The first is that it’s hugely expensive. The second is that it’s not necessary. I’ll tackle the first issue below, more on the second at the end of this article. Cost is a huge reason not to provide parking facilities. If Minnesota United FC intended to provide parking to a sizeable amount of fans, the cost of building the needed structures would be high. A recent study found that the average cost of a parking structure in Minneapolis was $19,661 per space. To simply break even on this lot over twenty years, the team would need to sell out every space for every game at a rate of almost $50. More likely, the costs of building the parking structure would be baked into the cost of a ticket, and as a result, borne by all fans no matter whether they used it or not. This is not surprising. Recent research into the costs of providing structured parking for residential development have found that it can increase the development cost per unit of housing by over $10,000, a figure which is inevitably passed down to consumers and manifests itself in unaffordable housing. The point is, parking is tremendously costly to build.
An even greater cost may be the opportunity cost. The space required to store private cars is massive and inefficient. The standard parking space is nine feet wide and eighteen feet long; or 162 square feet. That’s significant. Especially when it serves a sporting venue, a parking garage is space that lies essentially vacant for significant stretches of time, is used intensely for a short period, and then lies vacant again. In an urban development like the one envisioned for Midway, every square foot of land counts. If you were to amend the existing site plan to add a structured parking garage, something else would have to be eliminated. Would it be the residential buildings, where the highest real-estate margins are usually found? Would it be the office buildings, whose presence helps the development break even and sets the residential up for success? Would it be the public spaces, which add value to the residential and the office spaces and are envisioned as an important neighborhood amenity? When you get into the language of trade-offs, suddenly the case for parking seemed weakened. The other component parts will be more used over time, and thus add more value to the development, than would a parking structure.
There is already a lot of parking
Brian: So how much parking is actually needed? That will depend on how many people the team will be able to convince to arrive by bus, train, bike, and walking. Parking is limited at Portland’s Providence Park where the Timbers play, so encouraging alternative transportation was important. The team worked hard in the months leading up to the renovations of the stadium and their opening season as an MLS team.
These days, fans seem to easily find their way to the stadium without driving. In Portland, 62% of those attending Timbers games take public transportation. That’s not an unfathomable number for United at a location that has excellent light rail train service and a bus rapid transit system. The LRT is now being used by over 25% of Vikings fans whose fanbase is weighted heavily from the south and western suburbs. For some Twins games this past year, 1/3 of their fans used light rail to get to and from Target Field. In 2014, the Vikings saw on average 13,000 people using LRT on game days. The United stadium will hold approximately 20,000 fans and with 13,000 attending via LRT that alone would make up 65% of the total attendance.
Assuming that perhaps 50% of Minnesota United FC fans will arrive by alternative transportation and with a stadium capacity of 20,000, there would be 10,000 fans arriving by vehicle. Most sports teams figure a 3:1 ratio on people to cars. With that number Minnesota United would only need about 3,333 parking spots.
So where will you park if you are arriving by car from outstate or the suburbs? Earlier in this piece we mentioned a study I did last summer along with Adam Jarvi, an architect who lives very near the Midway Center and who is a Minnesota United supporter. After careful research of the area by walking, driving, biking and using tools like Google Earth, there appear to be well over 3,500 underutilized parking spots within one-half mile in each direction of the University and Snelling interchange. All of these spots are entirely empty on weekends and mostly empty on weekdays after 5:30 p.m. That number excludes any street parking or any potential park and ride options.
One example of the underutilized parking is the Spruce Tree ramp across Snelling Ave. and about two blocks from the potential stadium site. The city-owned lot currently has 353 parking spots and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s office said that ramp is expandable to 600 spots. The study only counted the 353.
A block west of Spruce Tree ramp is Health East Specialty Center, the site of the old Midway Hospital. The lot currently has 436 parking spots and sits empty on weekends and is all but empty by 5:30 pm on weekdays. The site also has a ramp with 233 spaces.
The Wilder Parking ramp on Lexington between University and I-94 has 389 spaces. Adjacent to it sits an empty lot which is currently used only for Park and Rides to the Minnesota State Fair. That property could easily take in 200 vehicles. These would be great parking options if coming from the east.
There’s another ramp at Hamline University just a few blocks north of University and a block off of Snelling. That ramp isn’t included in the count. There are literally hundreds of spots around Fairview and University and many more just blocks to the east of Midway Center that could also be used. This scenario is repeated up and down University from Fairview to Lexington, I-94 to University.
Convincing some of those businesses to open up their lots for event parking may take some work, but as Alex has pointed out, using already existing surface and vertical parking is a good use of valuable real estate designated only for cars rather than creating new parking which will not generate revenue for the city, state and county like housing, retail or business would.
It would also be wise for the City of St. Paul and Minnesota United to to help guide motorists efficiently to nearby parking with a mobile application like ParkMe.
Beyond the 3,500 plus spots and just a seven minute LRT ride to the west is Westgate Station on the Green Line. The location is at Highway 280 and University which has approximately 1000 more parking spots in the general area. The site would make an ideal park and ride for those going to United matches and make a much more efficient commute for those coming from the west or north. Beyond that there are thousands of more parking spots a little further to the west in lots along University in Minneapolis that people are already using to go to Twins, Vikings and Gophers games. Those lots are an approximate 10 minute LRT ride from the Snelling Avenue Station.
Other park and rides have also been mentioned at both the State Fairgrounds and Rosedale. Both will be serviced by the new Metro Transit BRT. There will also be plenty of bars and restaurants that will provide shuttle services to the games as is now done for Gopher, Timberwolves, Twins, Vikings, and Wild games.
Lastly, it’s still is possible that another ramp could be built on the redevelopment site that could serve both Minnesota United and the businesses at a redeveloped Midway Center. St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark presented a similar thought in a letter he sent to his constituents last summer. A shared ramp would also help to overcome a $28 million gap between land values of the shopping center, cost of demolition, new redevelopment construction, and infrastructure that was outlined last year in an independent study paid for by the Met Council, the city, and RK Midway, owner of the property.
Alex: All of this is well and good, but only when you drop the notion that providing on-site parking is essential to the success of the stadium. It is to a small degree, and the planners have provisioned for this. There is a lot in the southeast corner of the site that will presumably serve as a loading dock for the stadium, a place for team buses, and perhaps an auxiliary lot during non-game times. These are essential auto-oriented needs, but the provision of parking for fans is not.
One main reason is that parking does already exist in the area, as Brian has so thoroughly documented. The standard guide for stadium parking is that there should be one spot for every three fans who are driving. Minnesota United FC has rightly assumed that a heavy portion of fans will take public transit to the game, and it may be that the parking capacity of surrounding structures, lots, and streets (yes, streets, nobody owns the spot in front of their house) is sufficient, or near sufficient to handle the load.
The other main reason is that people are flexible. Few people are ideological about their transportation choices. People will weigh cost, comfort, reliability, and speed when making a travel decision, and will choose the best option available to them. For example, I grew up in the New York City suburbs, where my family owned one to two cars. Yet every morning, my dad walked to the station, took the train to Manhattan, and walked to his office. It just made sense.
Minneapolis-Saint Paul is not New York City, but nor is it Bemidji. There are transportation options available to people, whether it’s walking for folks like Brian, to biking, to taking the train or the rapid bus, to driving. Think driving to the game will dominate other modes? Your estimate of the percentage of fans who will take their cars is almost certainly too high. Studies have demonstrated that business owners habitually overestimate the number of their patrons who arrive by car, sometimes by massive amounts. We are a society that is auto-dominated, but that doesn’t preclude rational decision making when it comes to making trips.
By providing subsidized parking, Minnesota United FC would be favoring one mode of transportation over others. There’s no real reason why the team should want to do this, all the team cares about is whether the fans show up. If there isn’t enough parking available for everyone, many fans will choose to take an alternative mode of transportation to the game instead. The team’s only concern is that there is enough parking available within a reasonable distance to accommodate that fans who truly do not have a choice but to drive. Beyond that, why should the team spend its money to provide more? How many fans will swear off seeing Minnesota United FC games entirely because they cannot park on the same superblock as the stadium? Few to none—just ask the Chicago Cubs how their urban stadium effects business. The truth is that virtually all fans will adapt in ways that make sense to them. Seeing a sporting game is a special event, one that is often highly anticipated and planned for, and a little extra planning in terms of getting there will not go amiss.
What’s more, the latest research actually is establishing a causal relationship between the supply of parking and the incidence of driving. By providing more parking options, Minnesota United FC would likely create more car trips than by providing no parking at all. In terms of traffic and fan pedestrian/driver safety, this is not in the interests of the team, now, or in ten years.
Consider this final quote. At a recent St. Paul Community Action Committee meeting regarding the redevelopment of the superblock, team owner Bill McGuire said, “We want to consider what the world is going is to look like in the future and it’s not going to be everyone driving around in cars.”
Dr. McGuire is right about the future, and he’s not wrong about the present either. There will be ample parking for Minnesota United FC fans. It won’t necessarily be on-site, but it will be there, and that’s the intelligent way to develop a parking plan for the Midway Stadium.
This article was originally posted on NorthernPitch.com.