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St. Paul Saints energized city, businesses and civic leaders say

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The Ox Cart Ale House was packed prior to the game
The dining room at The Ox Cart Ale House was packed prior to Saturday evening's Saint Paul Saints playoff game.
Matthew Hintz for MPR News

The minor-league St. Paul Saints may be out of the playoffs for this year, but the team scored big when it came to ticket sales during its first season at CHS Field. City leaders and local businesses say the new ballpark has also been a home run for downtown St. Paul. 

The Black Dog Café, just down the street from CHS Field, has seen a 20 percent increase in sales since the ballpark opened. Andy Remke, one of the cafe's owners, says Lowertown has come a long way.

"Fifteen years ago, we were thinking maybe it's just worth it for us to be open on a Saturday night, because it might not be safe," he said. "And now it's fantastic. I mean there's people walking around on the streets all through the night." 

The Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce says other downtown bars and restaurants have also reported a bump in business.

The team drew more than 400,000 fans this year. That's an increase of almost 70 percent from last year, when the Saints played their final season at the smaller, more isolated Midway Stadium. 

Chamber President Matt Kramer says the change in location is even more important than the number of tickets.

A traffic guard ushered cars.
A traffic guard ushered cars through at the corner of 5th Street and N Broadway Street in the Lowertown neighborhood of Saint Paul.
Matthew Hintz for MPR News

"If they had drawn half a million people, and they had still been located in an industrial park five miles north of here, nobody would have noticed," he said. "Because guess what? You can't do anything in an industrial park."

The ballpark cost almost $65 million to build. Most of the money came from state and local taxpayers. 

Economists have generally concluded that publicly-financed stadiums aren't worth the money. But St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman says this one is different.

"If you build it into a community that is already strong, it can really have an accelerating impact. And that's what we're seeing with CHS," Coleman said. 

There's not a lot of hard data available yet, but looking at sales tax numbers, it's difficult to see a citywide economic impact from the ballpark so far. Compared to last year, St. Paul saw slightly lower sales tax receipts in June, which was the first full month the ballpark was open, and the most recent data available.

Unlike many sports team executives, Saints owner Mike Veeck never claimed this ballpark would be an economic engine. He preferred to talk about it as a cultural asset for the city. Watching the game this weekend, Veeck said it has clearly delivered.

"On July third, I stood right above us," he said. "I looked down all the way to Rice Park. And there were 10,000 people in the ballpark and 4,000 out on the street. You couldn't tell the ballpark ended and the farmer's market started. That's created that sense of community." 

The stadium has 7,000 seats. Thanks to the standing-room only areas, the team sold more than 8,000 tickets a game on average. Team officials say that made CHS Field one of the best-performing stadiums in minor league baseball this year.

MPR News reporter Peter Cox contributed to this story.