19.4.16

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE SNELLING-UNIVERSITY DEVELOPMENT AND SOCCER STADIUM

[The place we're talking about.]
There's a "public meeting" tonight co-sponsored by Neighborhoods First, a group I quite like that has spearheaded the efforts to re-think Ayd Mill Road as a pedestrian, park, and bicycle space instead of a half-assed freeway.

To me, re-developing the "superblock" at Snelling and University is the same kind of thing: taking a space for cars and making it a space for people.

But there are lots of unanswered questions like these:



Q: WHERE WILL I GO TO GET DRIVE-THRU FAST FOOD ONCE THE MCDONALDS IS GONE?

I worry about this a lot. If this development happens as planned, soon there will only be the drive-thru at the Taco Bell, Hardees, Wendy's, Arby's, White Castle, Popeye's, and Culver's to get fast food while sitting in my idling car.

(Thankfully there's always the bank McDonalds and the McDonalds two miles to the West.)

[I'd like to get rid of this drive-thru as well.]

Q: WILL IT FINALLY BE SAFE TO CROSS SNELLING AVENUE ON FOOT?

Good god I hope so, but history tells us otherwise.


Q: SOCCER IS DYING YOU GUYS

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world.


Q: WILL THEY BE ABLE TO EXPAND OR IMPROVE THE SNELLING AVENUE SIDEWALKS?

One big tragedy about the situation is that MnDOT just spent millions of dollars reconstructing Snelling Avenue and the I-94 bridge but didn't really figure on safely accommodating lots of pedestrians. Of course, they even came up with a plan to do so full of good ideas.

But, you know, MnDOT.



Q: DO I TRUST BILL MCGUIRE?


[Private park built by Bill McGuire and "given" to the city of Minneapolis.]
About as much as most billionaires.

Which is to say, no. I'm not a fan of the for-profit health care business, for example. But at least he's better than Zygi Wilf? (Note: very low bar.)

I'm also not a fan of privately owned "public" parks. But Gold Medal Park could be worse? It's OK for meeting up for large group bike rides and it's photogenic, even if it is mostly useless as a true public space.

So I don't know. At least he's been coming to meetings and answering questions.

To me, the important variable is the surrounding development, and at first glance, the initial plans are very encouraging

But plans are one thing, and actual construction is another. It would suck if the development didn't actually happen. Getting strip mall owners to redevelop their property is difficult. That's my #1 fear.

[Planned land use.]


Q: WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE BOWLING ALLEY?

I hope it can move into new space, but bowling pin machines are extremely unmovable and the alley has sixteen (!) thirty-two (!!) of them.

[The bowling alley is under here.]



Q: WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE LIQUOR STORE?

It's a good liquor store. It's kind of like Saint Paul's Chicago/Lake Liquors, if Chicago/Lake Liquors had a parking lot that was twenty times larger.

I bet it'll be able to move into a new building if the owners want, though the timing might be tricky. Target sells booze now but I don't shop there if I can help it.


Q: WHAT ABOUT FINANCING?


[Early Metrodome rendering.]
From a simple financing perspective, the Metrodome was the best stadium of all time. But it sucked.

Point being that stadium financing is a terrible thing. I wish there was a blanket ban on public dollars going to fund private sports stadiums. So thanks Obama for that.

Even if there were a ban, it's likely that government would still pay for things near sports stadiums such as roads or other infrastructure (e.g. almost useless pedestrian ramps to light rail platforms heading the wrong direction).

Tax-funded infrastructure is a thing that happens for many developments, from a parasitic Walmart store to a residential cul-de-sac development to the very existence of a thing like a freeway or a transit line (at least, if it's not using a "value capture" financing model). This relationship holds true about a lot of things, and the city would likely be spending millions of dollars building new streets for any development that went into this site. (There were plans on the books years ago.)


[From the already-existing Snelling-University plans for a re-built street grid.]

I respect people who adopt black-and-white attitudes about stadiums, but for me the question is more relative. For example, I think Target Field is really well-designed and just about the best baseball stadium we could have built in Minnesota. I wish it hadn't cost so many tax dollars because I don't like that at all.

(Note: I also wish the Minneapolis Convention Center didn't get big subsidies. And oil companies. And freeway construction and maintenance. And the defense industry. More stuff too.)

Thus the relativity. If Target Field hadn't been built, would there have been tax-paying development on that site? Probably someday. Maybe even today. Would there be as much development in the North Loop? I don't know. It's awfully close to the garbage burner and the city's homeless shelter "LULU" zone. So it's hard to say.

Financing aside, I think Target Field is the best-case scenario for stadiums in the Twin Cities. The Vikings stadium is the worst. Actually, Target Center isn't that great either.

But that's a big caveat. Including financing, you'd have to say that this proposal seems like the best-case scenario. Then I'd rank the regions' stadiums like this: Saints (scale!) > [tied] Gophers football  =  [tied] Wild >  Twins (because of the $$$) > Wolves > Vikings (death star).

Would the Twin Cities be better off if all these stadiums simply had never been built? I have no idea.

Probably maybe?


Q: WILL THERE BE "TEMPORARY" SURFACE PARKING LOTS ON THE SITE WHILE WE WAIT FOR THE PROPOSED MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT?

If so, I hope it's VERY short-term.


Q: WHEN WILL THE RAINBOW FOODS SEE THE WRECKING BALL?

I hear it's the first to go, but it still won't be soon enough.


Q: WILL THERE BE TRAFFIC?

Yes. The corner of Snelling and University will always have lots of car traffic.

Should we keep half of University Avenue as a giant surface parking lot because traffic is bad on Snelling Avenue? Hell No.

Is traffic better or worse with the Green Line than it was before? I think it's about the same. Maybe even a bit lower. Certainly, people drive a bit slower and more safely. That's kind of interesting if you think about it.



Q: WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE DIVE BARS?

[Hot Rods.]
Won't someone think of the dive bars?

I'm thinking about the dive bars. I hope half of them stay around for a long time to come. I really don't want to see the old two-story University Avenue buildings torn down.


Q: WHAT ABOUT NOISE?


Hm. Honestly, a lot of people were worried about noise at the Saints ballpark, but it hasn't proved to be a problem at least not according to my Lowertown friends who have a performance space next to the Farmers' Market. I have heard that soccer stadium designers think very carefully about noise.

You know what noise really sucks? The constant sound of a thousand cars and trucks driving on a freeway or on Snelling Avenue which is pretty much a freeway at least by technical designation. Soccer fans literally sing, which is better to me than the sounds of an engine-braking semi truck. But like I said, I doubt anyone will be able to hear it from very far away.


Q: HOW WILL I BIKE TO THE STADIUM?

Let's say I'm a 22-year-old person living in somewhere to the Southwest in either Minneapolis or Saint Paul, within about a 10-mile radius of the new stadium. Riding a bike would be ideal! Too bad there's no direct way to get there.

Here's the route suggested in a recent city presentation:
[Pascal doesn't connect to Selby. which means you have to ride on Snelling or Hamline, which both suck.]

I think the team and the planners should take this problem very seriously. I doubt they will spend any meaningful money on solving the problem, which would be too bad.

One idea would be a few more Charles Avenue-style bike/ped crossing medians.

Another grander idea would be turning one lane of St. Anthony Avenue into a protected bike lane. Maybe even Concordia, too. Someone suggested that to me a while ago and at least it's intriguing.

Even bigger idea? Ayd Mill Road linear park / bike connection to Pascal Street.

The biggest idea? Greenway connection to Minneapolis.


Q: WILL THERE BE A TIF DISTRICT FOR THE MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT?


We don't know. At least CM Noecker raised the issue. I'm skeptical but open-minded on TIF but would like clarity and transparency about how it's used and the conditions for termination.


Q: WHAT WILL BE THE NON-MOTORIZED MODESHARE FOR SOCCER GAMES?

In Portland, I heard it was 70%. In Ottawa, I heard that they have a unique ticketing/parking system that reduces demand to the point where they didn't build very much on the stadium/development site.

This is what we should be focusing on.


Q: WILL PEOPLE PARK IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD?

Yes, sometimes I'm sure that will happen. People park in lots of neighborhoods. Lots of people thought that when the Green Line was being planned, that the neighborhoods would fill with cars. Has it happened? I don't know. Not much?

Will it be hard to park near your house if you live in Hamline-Midway? Slightly harder maybe.  It depends on where exactly you live. How many cars do you own? How far can you walk while remaining in a good mood?

There will be 12 17 soccer games a year. I think it'll be OK. If it's horrible, there are some quick-fix solutions, though like traffic, the "parking problem" is not going to magically disappear.



Q: WILL THE NEW SKYSCRAPERS BLOT OUT THE SUN?

Hey they're pretty tall! It's kind of mindblowing to see the before-and-after photos.

Here check them out:







The big change reminds me of two or three other neighborhoods, all in Minneapolis, that have been utterly transformed in the last decade or so. I'm thinking of the Mill District, which used to be a sea of surface parking lots and a one-story liquor store and is now a dense mixed-use neighborhood providing thousands of people with homes and lots of tax revenue for the city. For me, the change is one for the better. In 1996, my friend and I used to pay $1 a day to park in a parking lot where the Guthrie is located today. I'm not nostalgic about it.

Stadium Village around the University, and Washington Avenue in particular, is almost unrecognizable compared to 5-6 years ago. It used to be a car-choked death trap with a few middling stores, a car repair place, the Army/Navy recruiter (still there!), brutalist institutional architecture, and unromantic "student houses." Today there are thousands of new units of housing and shiny new retail places (though Big 10 is still my favorite), and the street has become a walking/biking/transit paradise full of people.

You might say the same thing about the many new apartment buildings that have been built along the Midtown Greenway in Uptown. It's a dramatic positive change.

For decades, Snelling and University has been a giant trash-strewn parking lot with a run-down strip mall, a Radio Shack, a few vacant lots, a couple drive-thrus, an underground bowling alley, and a decent liquor store. It's been a terrible place to walk or bike or wait for the #21 to show up. Nearby development like the CVS (or even the Spruce Tree) have left a lot to be desired.

To me, these plans look revolutionary in a good way. It's about time Saint Paul started seeing some dramatic steps forward. Minneapolis has a few examples and Saint Paul has lots of opportunities for similar positive change. Details are important, but let's not lose sight of the big picture in the mind-numbing chaos of a lifetime of parking lots and honking cars.

http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2016/03/tc-sidewalks-booklets-now-available.html

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Bowling CENTER has 32 not 16.

Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to figure out who honestly thinks it's a good idea to make one of the most crowded intersections in the Twin Cities MORE crowded with traffic, high-rises(yikes!), more people than are already crammed into Midway, and corporations. Also, why?

There are already 2 gyms within 5 blocks. Target liquors is totally overpriced. The bowling alley is historical, and so on... All I can think of is that either people have not truly thought about the crowding aspect, or they just don't care because they live far enough away that it will not directly impact their living space.

I am sadly, discouraged. Thoughts (kind plz, not mean -- I'm not writing this from a mean place) are appreciated.

Bill Lindeke said...

I think that whether or not you perceive the city as "crowded" depends on how you get around. If you drive all the time, there's a very low threshold for "crowding." Any traffic at all seems crowded.

If you don't drive very much, what is and is not "crowded" is a completely different matter. When downtown Saint Paul had three events going on at the same time last year, I really liked it! It helped that I wasn't driving or parking. (See the post on the topic here: http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2015/01/saint-pauls-big-day-shows-fundamental.html)

The other thing I think about is the historic population of a neighborhood like Hamline-Midway. Household size has been shrinking pretty dramatically over the last few decades. Most of the homes in Saint Paul used to have more people in them. Our streets and sidewalks used to have more people on them. Our local businesses used to have more population supporting them. The thing was that everyone wasn't driving all the time, which is the key to how conceptions of "crowding" work in cities.

Anonymous said...

One more question: What's to happen with Spruce Tree? Any plans to rehab or rebuild?

Completely agree with your bike comments.

Renee Spillum said...

Here's the thing about your #1 concern, which should be everyone's number one concern except for one thing:

We do not have to trust Bill McGuire is an upstanding moral citizen (though I do think he's 'legacy building' in an attempt to un-sully his name, which is to our advantage). We just have to trust that he's not an idiot. I do not believe he would build this stadium and green space in this location if he for 5 seconds doubted that the stuff around it is coming. That would NOT build a legacy. He exists in a world where he'll be hob knobbing with other MLS team owners and big wigs and WANTS those renderings to come to life so his soccer stadium is amazing (and transformative to boot) for bragging rights. Having his beautiful building sitting in the middle of that wasteland even for 10 years would be a huge embarrassment. I believe he's privy to a lot more of the inner workings and negotiations in terms of whose corporate headquarters might justify an office tower, who's being talked to about a hotel, etc, than the general public could be.

He cares more than we do about what happens next, has more on the line, and has more information. To me, that means as long as he's not an idiot, we'll be okay.