Developing St. Paul’s Midway: A new hotel, office building, 90-foot-wide loon …

21 March 2024

The primary structures of a sizable new playground are now in the ground by Allianz Field, the professional soccer stadium in St. Paul’s Midway.

A sculpted loon measuring some 35 feet in height, with a wing span 90 feet across, will roll in from Los Angeles this summer and land, permanently, at the southeast corner of Snelling and University avenues, arriving in as many as 40 pieces and four truckloads.

On April 1, the St. Paul Board of Zoning Appeals will host a public hearing on a series of variance requests related to two single-story food pavilions proposed along the eastern edges of United Village’s “Great Lawn.” The pavilions, with covered outdoor dining terraces, will host both a full-service restaurant and more casual dining between extensions of Asbury, Simpson and Spruce Tree streets, just south of an eight-story, 160-unit hotel and adjoining parking ramp planned along University Avenue.

As for the longstanding McDonald’s on University Avenue, its lease ends in December. Demolition could follow.

A rendering depicting the pedestrian plaza that would connect two single-story food pavilions along the east end of the Great Lawn, the greenery at the center of the United Village area surrounding Allianz Field in St. Paul’s Midway. (Courtesy of Snelling-Midway Redevelopment)


After years of waiting for real estate development to fill in the empty lots of the 35-acre Snelling-Midway “superblock,” neighborhood advocates are cautiously optimistic that United Village will become reality.

On the horizon, at least in concept drawings, is some $200 million in private real investment, on top of upwards of $6 million in contributions from Dr. Bill McGuire’s family foundation for the new all-abilities playground and the acre-sized sculpture garden.

“Allianz Field has many great features,” said McGuire, owner of the Minnesota United soccer team, addressing neighborhood residents last week during a community forum at Allianz Field. “One of them is its architecture … but its greatest feature is how it works for people. That’s the reason it was voted the No. 1 experience in any stadium in North America, and I think this represents an opportunity to do very similar things in the community.”

McGuire, who recently paid $54 million to buy 10 parcels of land from former property owner RK Midway, has now taken the lead in redeveloping the 35 acres once associated with the former Midway Shopping Center and a blighted bus storage lot.

More than ever, it’s put him front and center in discussions about the future of not just the stadium, but the well-being of the surrounding Midway neighborhood, which has lost a series of anchor restaurants and retailers over the past four years.

A rendering showing the future layout of the United Village area surrounding Allianz Field in St. Paul’s Midway. (Courtesy of Snelling-Midway Redevelopment)

A chain-link fence that separated the empty lots near Snelling and University avenues from the community was not his idea, said McGuire, responding last week to a question from the audience. He pinned blame squarely on the city and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“We should get our facts straight,” he said. “Bill McGuire had nothing to do with that fence. I neither asked for it nor condoned it.”

He hopes to turn the perception of blight around, but even if financing comes through this summer, construction of four new buildings will take 14 to 16 months, he said.

“Our intent is to do them all together,” he said.

Goodbye, McDonald’s — unknowns ahead

Creation requires destruction, and the lease held by the superblock’s last remaining commercial tenant — the drive-through McDonald’s — ends at the end of December, setting the stage for demolition and then hotel construction about a year from now. Asbury Street will be extended through the center of what had been the fast food restaurant, completing the street grid.

An architectural rendering of a proposed eight-story hotel to be built by the Allianz Field soccer stadium in St. Paul, with a south wall entrance facing the “Great Lawn” and a north wall entrance set back several dozen feet from University Avenue to accommodate a passenger drop-off loop running the length of the building.(Courtesy of Snelling-Midway Redevelopment)

McGuire informed residents that the proposed parking structure adjoining the hotel will feature a public restroom with outside access from the Great Lawn, an amenity that many see as important toward elevating the green space into a true community asset.

There are still many unknowns. If McGuire has a hotel partner in mind, he’s staying mum. For the two food pavilions, “exact operators have not been selected,” reads the supporting materials behind the variance requests, which mostly center on ground-floor windows and door openings.

It’s unclear if the management behind Minnesota United will relocate from Golden Valley and move into an airy, four-story office building, depicted in conceptual renderings with large glass windows and wide-open work areas.

Ground-level restaurants and retailers also are expected in the hotel and office building, but those partners haven’t been chosen, either. McGuire said he had no interest in big-box retail or national chains and was courting smaller, locally-driven ventures. He said he was excited about “the opportunity (United Village) represents for the community and for the city to express itself and bring new and interesting things to the area. … I think it remains up in the air what the retail will ultimately be. You all can look around and see that retail has a lot of empty space.”

Other challenges ahead

There are other challenges ahead. Finding financing for the hotel, office building and two food pavilions has been a difficult slog, in part due to interest rates that have risen to “8 1/2% or 9% if they like you,” McGuire said. “This a terrible market … globally for financing, getting debt and finding investors in particular projects. That is a full-time occupation and a half, and not easy.”

Nevertheless, “I remain confident that we have the people in this that will step forward,” he added. “They have committed to that, and I expect them to be there. Hopefully, we can be shoveling, at least moving some dirt around in a few areas, specifically the office building and the restaurants in late summer.”

Some residents have expressed concern that the proposed buildings will be situated to present their back doors to the surrounding neighborhood. McGuire said the goal is to form a ring around the Great Lawn, elevating the space as a center of activity while promoting foot traffic, almost like the quad of a college green.

“Virtually every street (will be) bounded by sidewalks in a world where there was once no sidewalks,” McGuire said. “These are 12- and 15-foot sidewalks, which are very large, I suspect larger than any sidewalks you could find in the Twin Cities almost.”

As the four buildings come online, street improvements and other public amenities will be paid for in large part through property tax incentives known as tax increment financing, which the St. Paul City Council approved in 2021. The $209 million “TIF” district effectively redirects payments that would otherwise flow to city, county and school district tax coffers over the course of 26 years, focusing them instead on on-site land improvements.

“The city is making a real commitment in TIF, but it is spread out for years to come,” McGuire said. “If the buildings don’t happen, TIF doesn’t happen.”

The March 14 community discussion was hosted by the Hamline Midway Coalition and Union Park District Council.

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