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St. Paul squares up for economic boon as Saints opener nears

Karlee Weinmann//May 8, 2015

St. Paul squares up for economic boon as Saints opener nears

Karlee Weinmann//May 8, 2015

Exactly two weeks before a sold-out crowd is set to descend on Lowertown for the St. Paul Saints’ first game at their new ballpark, officials on Thursday forecast a huge boon for businesses in the surrounding area.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, looking out on the new facility, said it is a showpiece example of St. Paul’s economic vitality. The $63 million minor-league ballpark, slated to open May 21, is one of several large-scale projects aimed at beefing up the city’s offerings and reinforcing its place as a destination for residents, visitors and workers.

“I can’t get a smile off my face whenever I come into this facility and think about what it means already to the city of St. Paul,” Coleman said at an on-site lunch celebrating the ballpark organized by the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. More than 200 people attended.

The 7,000-seat facility, dubbed CHS Field, is the latest example of St. Paul molding itself into a destination city with broader offerings. It’s nestled at the edge of downtown in Lowertown, a development hotbed where a slew of bars and restaurants, along with expansive new housing, have sprouted near the Saints facility.

Starting when fans pack in for the Saints’ opening day and continuing throughout the season, city officials predict they will become a new economic driver for businesses in the area.

“This may be where the Saints play, but it’s an investment in St. Paul,” St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kramer said at the event. Kramer told Finance & Commerce last month that the Saints stadium was a huge selling point for the city, especially as it courts visitors and businesses.

Lowertown’s rise mirrors the overall increase in economic development around St. Paul in recent years. The ballpark site at Fifth and Broadway streets, for example, used to be a polluted swath that was more eyesore than economic engine.

In addition, the city has pushed for better transportation infrastructure and broader offerings, like CHS Field, to stoke new growth around town.

Several big-ticket real estate projects plus the Green Line, the biggest infrastructure project in state history, have buoyed residential and commercial prospects. The stadium is blocks from the Union Depot stop on the light rail transit line, which links the downtown areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The ballpark itself is designed to be accessible to most with 90 percent of tickets priced between $5 and $18 a pop, said Mike Veeck, the team’s president. Those are the same rates or lower than at the Saints’ previous home, Midway Stadium, in an industrial area on Energy Park Drive, he said.

In line with St. Paul’s transit expansion, about 30 bus lines pass by CHS Field.

The team is also negotiating a shared-use agreement to construct a 271-spot tailgate lot east of a Green Line maintenance facility, owned by the Metropolitan Council and adjacent to the ballpark. The Saints would pay to build the lot, answering demand for space to tailgate, a popular Midway Stadium activity.

“We will attempt to be all things to all people,” Veeck said at Thursday’s lunch.

Coleman said the stadium, the Ordway Theater’s $42 million facelift and a planned $40 million Catholic Charities facility are symbols of a next-generation St. Paul. A redoubled focus on culture, entertainment and community serves as a springboard for expansion, he said.

City officials on both sides of the Mississippi for years have touted those areas of focus as important ones to lure and retain Twin Cities residents and workers, particularly millennials – a group in especially sharp focus as baby boomers edge toward retirement and industries grapple with potential worker shortages.

“Through those three projects,” Coleman said, “you really have the range what the city of St. Paul is all about.”

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