Norm Coleman used his final State of the City speech to take an imaginary journey through Saint Paul in the year 2004. The technique allowed Coleman, who is not seeking a third term as mayor, to count as successes a number of projects still in the works and some that are not even that far along, including three new pro-sports facilities.
Coleman's vision for Saint Paul would include reclaiming the Post Office building and using it to enhance the city's riverfront.
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COLEMAN SPOKE TO AN AUDIENCE of supporters and associates in Saint Paul's historic Union Depot, a building he promised will be renovated to again handle railroad traffic, possibly of the high-speed variety. Coleman blended the real with the possible throughout his 45-minute speech. He spoke on a stage made to look like a caboose while a video screen next to him showed drawings and computerized images of possibilities for places such as the Post Office loading dock right outside the depot.
"In place of the truck dock and parking facilities you see today, a river garden, a new marina, and scores of new housing units along the riverfront as we replace truck dock facilities and parking decks with new ways to interact with the river," Coleman said.
Coleman described several concepts he'd previously discussed, such as gondolas and water taxis across the Mississippi and a renovated farmer's market. There were some new ideas such as moving the city's main Post Office to the former Stroh's brewery and redeveloping the current postal site on the river.
Coleman's smorgasbord of the future also includes three new sports facilities near the riverfront: a new baseball stadium for the Minnesota Twins, a separate new minor-league ballpark for the Saint Paul Saints, and a new soccer facility. The outgoing mayor offered no price tag for the entirety of projects in his crystal ball but said the city will have some private sector funding help.
"I haven't added up the numbers but it's a lot," he said. "But the good news is it's not all about what the city's doing. Sibley House, 106 condos (and) not a dime of public investment. Saint Paul Saints - if that happens, they're at the table. The Twins, if we do that piece more than half would come from the Twins and the private side. So I haven't put a price tag but it's all doable."
A major-league ballpark would cost about $300 million. Coleman foresees Saint Paul footing $125 million of that through a new tax on downtown bars and restaurants and some of the revenue from city-owned parking ramps. Coleman says the plan calls for no state subsidy but hinges on financial reforms in Major League Baseball, namely a salary cap and revenue sharing among teams.
Various public officials around the country have been asking baseball to reform itself for more than 20 years to no avail. But Coleman thinks it could be time.
"Major League Baseball has to do something," he said. "I'm willing to join with folks like Jerry Brown in Oakland and other mayors and say 'Baseball, you'd better clean up your act.' They need this market. This if the 15th- or 13th-largest media market. They need it and if they're going to have it here, they'd better clean up their act."
The most common ballpark plans for Saint Paul envisions its location to the northwest of the city's new Exel Arena.
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Two years ago Saint Paul voters soundly rejected Coleman's proposed sales-tax increase that would have raised money for a Twins ballpark. Coleman wants to put his revised plan on the ballot again this fall. If his ballpark pitch gains momentum, it could become a major issue in the race to determine his successor as mayor.
Coleman calls State Senator Randy Kelly the candidate to succeed him whose philosophy is closest to his own. But even Kelly was reluctant to endorse the ballpark proposal.
"I don't think the public is going to want to invest any time or money into baseball unless they actually fix themselves in terms of the revenue sharing and in terms of the salary caps. We're going to have to have those assurances before we invest much time or energy in this, whether it's at the city or at the Capitol," Kelly said.
Another mayoral hopeful, former City Council member Bob Long, likes the ballpark idea but not Coleman's method of paying for it. "I want to build a new stadium in Saint Paul but I believe we can do it without raising new taxes. I know there's a way to do it. I believe the voters have spoken on the issue of raising new taxes to pay for a baseball stadium in Saint Paul and I think we have to respect the decision of the voters on that one," he said.
A Minneapolis business group is forging a plan for a ballpark funded primarily with private money. Twins executives have expressed no preference for one of the Twin Cities over the other.