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No bad alleys’ in soccer site plan

ST. PAUL -- When Minnesota United begins play at a 20,000-seat professional soccer stadium in St. Paul's Midway in 2018, two park-sized plots of green space will likely debut with it.

Soccer stadium
Proposed new soccer stadium in St. Paul. (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

ST. PAUL -- When Minnesota United begins play at a 20,000-seat professional soccer stadium in St. Paul’s Midway in 2018, two park-sized plots of green space will likely debut with it.

Privately developed, Midway Square and Victory Plaza will sit north of the new stadium, roughly halfway between Snelling Avenue and Pascal Street, almost touching University Avenue.

And that’s just for starters, according to team owner Dr. Bill McGuire.

A long-term redevelopment vision for the area was made public Thursday in the 33-page Snelling-Midway Redevelopment Master Plan, which was distributed jointly by the two architecture firms working with Minnesota United and strip mall owner RK Midway.

Those plans contemplate a walkable urban village featuring a possible movie theater near the southeast corner of Snelling and University avenues, as well as a hotel, residences, a fitness facility, retail stores and corporate office spaces spread throughout the 35-acre campus.

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“It’s all outward facing,” said McGuire, addressing members of the Snelling-Midway Community Advisory Committee on Thursday in a former bank building on the site. “There are no bad corners. No bad alleys.”

In other words, building entrances and greenery would hug the sidewalk edges along Snelling, University and Pascal. Parking would be spread throughout the campus, instead of creating a giant asphalt buffer between University Avenue and the existing strip mall.

McGuire said the “progressive urban design” includes “lots of green space, lots of open space … lots of various size businesses,” with pedestrian-friendly sidewalks that are triple their current width.

The building currently housing Rainbow Foods must go, though the grocer would likely be invited to return in a new location. In its place, pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to travel along a new east-west extension of Shields Avenue, which will curve between the new parks and the future stadium. Pascal Street would be redesigned as a bike-friendly access point, as well.

McGuire said the full redevelopment of the Snelling-Midway “SuperBlock” will likely proceed in phases and will change with the market as different tenants come forward. Flanked by city planning director Jonathan Sage-Martinson, he told reporters afterward that he does not own the shopping mall site and could not dictate what businesses will open there, or when.

Nevertheless, the strip mall owner’s architects, S9 Architecture, are working closely with stadium architects Populous to envision a new street grid and wide mix of uses on a site now dominated by open parking and broken asphalt.

The 35-acre site bounded by University and Snelling avenues, Interstate 94 and Pascal Street is the current home of 41 businesses, and many, if not all, will have to relocate to make that vision a reality, though some may be invited back.

Sage-Martinson said that the city has not made any special request to the Minnesota Legislature for new infrastructure funding and that everything envisioned to date has been driven by the private sector, with input from the Community Advisory Committee. Transportation consultants will release traffic and parking findings in April and May.

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Minnesota United is seeking property tax exemptions at the Legislature to begin construction this year of the privately funded stadium on blighted land that will be leased from the Metropolitan Council. McGuire said the stadium’s costs, once projected at $120 million, will clearly grow.

Anne White, who sits on the board of the Union Park District Council, is eager to see the current strip mall enter the modern era, with improved pedestrian access and more green space. The master plan contemplates moving traffic signals to Shields Avenue, at the site’s eastern and western access points off Pascal Street and Snelling Avenue, respectively. Those two steps alone, she said, would help improve pedestrian crossings.

“We’ve had our eye on this for a long time,” White said. “I’m really excited about this.”

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