A river doesn’t run through it.
Nor are there wetlands among the 35 acres of concrete and big box stores in St. Paul where a new professional soccer stadium and mixed-use development is expected to rise over the next several years. Even the water table is 25-to-30 feet below the surface.
But there will be rain and there will be snow. And under state and regional policies governing stormwater, the developers of the proposed Major League Soccer stadium have to figure a way to keep rainwater and snowmelt on site, a least for a while.
That requirement is why some are proposing that a water “feature” be part of the site plan for the stadium and surrounding development: a pond, perhaps, or a fountain like the one at St. Paul’s Rice Park. Or a brook such as the one that’s part of the remodeled Mears Park.
“We’re pretty open and flexible as to what it is,” Mark Doneux, administrator of the Capitol Region Watershed District said last week.
But the watershed district wants, well, something. In comments to the St. Paul Planning Commission earlier this month, Doneux asked the commissioners to call for “a major, interactive water feature integrated into the site to help us achieve our organization’s watershed management goal of ‘Bringing Water Back to St. Paul,’ both literally and figuratively.”
“Through a major water feature and other green infrastructure practices,” he said, “we can capture the attention of a highly diverse, lower-than-average-income audience and connect them to water resources and motivate them to become water stewards.”
The Capitol Region Watershed District, which includes St. Paul, Lauderdale, Falcon Heights, Roseville and part of Maplewood, is one of 50 in the state and one of 11 in the metro area with regulatory authority over the area’s stormwater, as well as the wetlands, streams and lakes that drain into the Mississippi River.
The plans that concern the district have to do with the first phase of the soccer stadium development — which includes the building of the soccer stadium itself and some of the surrounding area. Called the “Opening Day Site Plan,” it includes one prominent green space to the north of the stadium — but no water feature.
Other proposed green spaces further north and west of the stadium are not part of the initial construction phase. And much of the land between the stadium and University Avenue will retain its strip mall and fast food uses.
Bill McGuire, the lead owner of the prospective Major League Soccer team, told the planning commission the stadium must be built first and relatively quickly so as to be ready by March 2018 for the MLS season. The rest of the redevelopment will be overseen by Rick Birdoff, the current owner of the shopping center, and will develop as current leases expire and as demand is realized for new office, residential and entertainment uses.
“We recognize that stormwater has to be dealt with with the redevelopment of the whole area,” McGuire said. “But this is a multi-year project and would have to be considered as the pieces are unveiled. We have designed the stormwater in areas that work with the stadium as the initial first step in that.”
While not ruling out a water feature for the site, McGuire described a preference for open space “where people can throw Frisbees and run around.” He also raised issues of cost for construction and maintenance, something he has promised the city he and other team investors would pay for.
A water feature has been considered, he said, but not committed to “in part because of the significant economic cost associated with some of those things and the relative amount of green space that is available and what the best use is.”
McGuire also noted that at one point a design for the site did include a water feature. “My reaction? Beautiful,” he said. “But there’s not any grass anymore. And frankly, in a sea of concrete, I wanted to see some grass.”
After others had testified about other aspects of the stadium and RK Midway redevelopment, McGuire said he was open to the idea of a water feature. But he said it would probably be located on the part of the project now covered with stores, fast food places and parking lots, rather than “on the edge of the stadium.”
“There are gives and takes and I’m certain this will come up again,” McGuire said.
Water, water, not everywhere
On June 6, an environmental review of the site, called an Alternative Urban Areawide Review, was released by the City of St. Paul. Included were requirements for the stadium sites’s stormwater collection and retention, including the demand that 1.1 inches of runoff be retained on site until it can more-gradually evaporate or seep into the ground beneath.
The review also notes that St. Paul has been developing what it terms “preferred stormwater management approaches.” That includes collecting and storing runoff over a broader area rather than parcel by parcel (something called “stacked-function green infrastructure”), which can save money and space.
According to the report, doing more with stormwater also has the potential for “place-making” at the redevelopment site: features that could include, “interactive fountains, open water features, rain gardens, artistic cisterns, tree trenches and rainwater/stormwater harvesting for reuse.”
At the planning commission’s June 10 hearing, Commissioner Daniel Edgerton said he took part in workshops held as part of the planning for the Midway site, and that including a water feature as part of the stormwater management plan was much discussed.
“There was a big public desire for a visible surface water feature,” Edgerton said. “Does that mean it’s out or is there a possibility in the future?”
As with many aspects of the soccer site plan, the details are not as detailed as many people — including city staff, neighbors and even those who helped plan the project — would like them to be. City staff said they do not have enough specifics on the stormwater management proposals yet. And Doneux noted that while the master plans for the whole site show a comprehensive stormwater system, the Opening Day Site Plan does not.
Eric Molho, co-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee on the stadium/RK Midway site, told the planning commission that though various concepts and visions of the stadium site plan have been presented, they do not represent the final designs. “This creates tremendous risk for the city, the neighborhood and those of us who are publicly supporting this redevelopment,” he said. “It’s possible that 10 years from now we will wind up with something even better than these drawings. It’s also possible we will see plans for development that do not meet the aspirations presented here today.”
Doneux said he is still hopeful that a comprehensive stormwater plan complete with water feature could be built, though he recognized the need to have the stadium built first and soon. He suggested that grants or incentives might be available to alleviate concerns over costs.
“They are doing a great job on the look and the feel of the stadium,” Doneux said. “Having the look and feel of a water feature would be beneficial. Now is our chance to promote that notion.”