St. Paul Saints stadium project moving at fast pace, 2015 opening likely

From a game of wiffle ball on the state capitol lawn to the razing of a 600,000-square-foot shampoo factory, progress on the St. Paul Saints’ new digs is now “full steam ahead,” according to one of the independent minor league baseball organization’s front office leaders.
“The best way to describe where things are now is that they’re moving forward at a great pace,” executive vice president and general manager Derek Sharrer said this week.
While demolition crews tear down the Gillette/Diamond Products plant in Saint Paul’s Lowertown district, architects from Ryan Companies are busy hatching the new ballpark’s detailed design. The new venue’s financing plan and general schematics are firmly in place, and all signs point toward a first pitch on May 15, 2015.
It’s an endeavor 33 years in the making.
That’s how long it took for the quirky, old-school charm of Midway Stadium to fade among an army of cold gray bleachers and outdated amenities. Starting in April 2012, when they organized a plastic bat-and-ball pickup contest in front of the state capitol building, the Saints pushed hard for the city and state to back a new ballpark.
Starting July 15 of this year, passersby on Fifth and Broadway Streets began seeing visible signs of the those efforts . Workers began demolishing the Gillette/Diamond building, which will be replaced with a more modern, 7,000 seat baseball stadium.
Much like the Minnesota Vikings planned palace — though on a much smaller financial scale — the project is a collaborative movement between franchise, city and state to provide players and fans a new destination and revitalize an area of downtown.
There have been delays. There have been cost adjustments.
But there will be a ballpark, Sharrer said.
“My understanding is there have been any number of hiccups along the way that are gonna happen in any project,” Sharrer said, “but there’s been nothing that’s ever put the project in jeopardy from a timeline perspective.”
Preliminary plans called for a $54 million price tag, with Saints ownership Goldklang Group contributing $10 million ($1.5 million up front and the rest throughout a 25-year lease with the city), the city of St. Paul chipping in $17 million, the state of Minnesota providing $25 million, and an additional $2 million coming from a grant tied to the Vikings stadium legislation. But further review of the site revealed extra soil remediation would be necessary, along with the relocation of a water main running under the playing surface’s proposed location. That required an extra $9 million — $1 million from the Saints, $2 million from the city, and a $6 million loan the city will essentially owe itself.
That’s a grand total of $63 million for a structure the city will own and the Saints will operate.
The city hired Ryan Companies to design and oversee construction of the ballpark. They’ve drafted a general visual overview and are scheduled to release a final design plan by April 15, 2014.
The original design deadline was last month, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, but the holdup shouldn’t jeopardize a construction start date of April 2014, Sharrer said.
Ryan is close to releasing more detailed renderings than the ones currently posted on Lowertownballpark.com, but some of the stadium’s key features are already known.
All but 500 of the ballpark’s seats will be fixed, in juxtaposition to the metal benches that currently adorn Midway. It will also feature a wide-open club area and a spacious, welcoming entry plaza.
“The plan is to bring the character and the culture and the feel of Midway Stadium to Lowertown in a more comfortable and efficient place for fans to enjoy a ballgame,” Sharrer said.
The project was put on hold earlier this month when worker Johnny Valek, 61, was killed in an on-site accident. Ryan and subcontractor Rachel Contracting reviewed their demolition procedures and plans before work resumed last Wednesday.
Once the Diamond building is completely torn down, crews can begin extracting debris and contaminated material from the soil on which it once stood.
Meanwhile, Sharrer and the Saints are hard at work coming up with ways to honor Midway Stadium during its final year of existence. It will be demolished after the team’s 2014 campaign — its 22nd at Midway.
Working for an American Association club that’s gained national acclaim — and criticism — for its wacky promotions and intimate game-day environment, Sharrer declined to get into specifics.
“It’s one of those ‘I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you’ scenarios,” he joked. “But we’re planning a season of celebration for what will be our 22 years here with Midway Stadium, and then starting to ramp up the excitement for opening our new facility in 2015.”

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