Saints ballpark budget has $8.8 million hole

Rendering of new Lowertown Ballpark, looking west toward downtown St. Paul. (City of St. Paul image)

A new minor league ballpark in downtown St. Paul will cost almost $9 million more than the $54 million the city budgeted.

St. Paul has found the soil underneath the ballpark site is far more polluted than it originally thought. It also underestimated the cost of constructing the ballpark itself.

Despite the shortfall, the city is continuing with construction of the new home for the minor league Saints baseball team.

"We're proceeding with the demolition of the building, and we're proceeding with identifying sources to address the financing gap," Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said in a conference call with reporters.

The ballpark site is currently home to an abandoned factory. The St. Paul Port Authority did preliminary soil tests before it purchased the land last year for $2.3 million. Based on those tests, the city budgeted about $5 million for pollution cleanup. It now projects the cost will be more than double that.

"It's not atypical," Port Authority President Louis Jambois said of the increased costs. "There's a lot of things that are unknown below the surface of the ground, and until we start digging in the dirt, we're not going to know all of it."

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

The site, over its history, has been used to manufacture shampoo and turn coal into gas. The soil contains solvents, petroleum, coal byproducts and heavy metals. The city knew it would have to haul away the top five to seven feet of soil. Now it's discovered that the problems run much deeper -- more like 20 feet.

The increased cleanup costs account for $6.2 million of funding gap. The other $2.6 million comes from the price of building the ballpark itself.

"To build a ballpark that you and the residents have come to expect, we will need to make investments that the current project budget does not allow," Hahm wrote in a letter to the City Council.

This is the second time St. Paul has had to fill a hole in the ballpark's budget. The state of Minnesota committed $25 million to the project last year -- $2 million less than the city had asked for. It later kicked in the balance in the form of a loan and a $1 million clean-up grant.

St. Paul is currently contributing $17 million, and the Saints has pledged $10 million. Hahm said the city will ask the team to increase its contribution, but did not say by how much. The solution, he said, would include "public and private funds."

City Councilmember Dave Thune, who represents Lowertown, the neighborhood where the ballpark will be built, said he's not worried about the budget gap and that the ballpark has lots of supporters, from the mayor to the team to the Chamber of Commerce.

“Everybody wants it to happen and to work. And, with that said, I think we will find a way to do it,” Thune said.