ST. PAUL-The St. Paul City Council voted 5-1 Wednesday to support a site plan for the future Major League Soccer stadium near Snelling and University avenues, as well as a master plan for the area that includes the adjoining shopping center.
Council member Jane Prince voted "no" on the stadium-related proposals, including a zoning amendment and preliminary plat, and council member Dan Bostrom was absent.
The vote cements the city's commitment to a 21,000-seat soccer stadium in the Midway. Minnesota United FC has agreed to pay for the $150 million stadium project if the Legislature provides property tax relief, which is tied up in a controversial tax bill that still awaits gubernatorial approval.
"Frankly, I still feel really torn about this," said council member Rebecca Noecker, echoing Prince's concerns about unfinished details. "What's there now is not what we want there for the future. I really believe the devil we know in this case cannot be worse than the devil in the future."
The master plan foresees residences, retailers, office space and even a hotel replacing the outdated Midway Shopping Center over the course of 10 years or more.
"The master plan is really exactly that - it's a plan for the overall site, including the stadium," said St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark. "There has been quite a community process. ... I'm really excited about this master plan. I live two blocks from this site. It's going to be a good opportunity to see some reinvestment in an area of the city that has needed it for quite a while."
Added council member Chris Tolbert: "This really is a game-changer for that neighborhood."
Prince called the vote "both rushed and premature." She noted that a Snelling-Midway advisory committee concluded its final report in May with the finding that "there seem(s) to be more questions than answers" with regard to the Midway redevelopment.
Even city Planning Commission documents fail to provide an open-space plan or detail on street widths, energy efficiency and other particulars, she said.
"Are we confident that we know everything we need to know to make this decision today?" Prince said. "We're being asked to act before there has been any strong specific evidence of developer interest in the site."
Prince said the "single-purpose stadium" will host 20 Major League Soccer events and some additional high school games each year, not enough to seed economic growth. "I'm just not here yet," she said. "It would be irresponsible for me to vote to advance the master plan today."
Council member Dai Thao, who represents the neighborhood, said that the diversity in St. Paul today is reflective of Minnesota's future, and that the city's existing Oromo, Somali, Hmong and Latino populations are excited for the stadium.
"During the State Fair time, when people are driving through that area, they will no longer see a graveyard for buses," Thao said.
Council member Amy Brendmoen noted that nearly 65,000 soccer fans gathered at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for a recent international match-up, and a Bhutanese association approached her the next day to ask if she'd gone to the game.
Thao introduced a community benefits plan that was unanimously supported by the council.
The city has pressed for a single storm-water system to serve the entire Snelling-Midway site, Thao said, including the soccer stadium and future development at the Midway Shopping Center.
The team has yet to agree to that request.
"The team remains open to those conversations ... while we don't have a definitive commitment that something will or will not happen," said Wes Saunders-Pearce, a city water planner, who noted that the team does not control the shopping center land. "Right now, the team is not in a position to make guarantees."
"This is one of the things that I would regret, if we didn't find a way to have a centralized storm water (system)," Thao said.
The site also will require a transportation management plan.