New Lowertown ballpark met ‘good faith’ hiring goals

Mayor says it reflects St. Paul’s commitment to diversity

Only one of six major St. Paul construction projects, including the now-open Lowertown ballpark, has met or exceeded the 32 percent workforce inclusion goal set by the City and the State. The City says others are still in progress, however, and the numbers will change for the better.

According to the latest progress report posted on St. Paul’s City website, 55 percent of the workforce on the Custom House hotel and luxury apartments project are “minority.” The other five — the $63 million, 7,000-seat ballpark (28 percent); the Ordway/McKnight Theatre expansion (26 percent); Episcopal Homes (21 percent); the Pioneer-Endicott Building (17 percent); and Hamline Station (13 percent) — have thus far fallen short of the stated workforce inclusion goals that developers and contractors are required to meet if they are using City financial assistance.

Jessica Kingston
Jessica Kingston

St. Paul Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO) Director Jessica Kingston explained in an email response last week, “There is still work being completed and these numbers will change until the project is fully completed and reporting done.”

Out of 252,128 total hours worked on the ballpark project, 72,986.25 hours were worked by people of color and 21,251.25 hours by women. Additionally, 27.5 percent of over $11 million in contracts has been awarded to minority-owned businesses (five percent), small businesses (nine percent), and women-owned businesses (12 percent).

Describing the Lowertown stadium, which is located on the eastern edge of downtown St. Paul, Kingston said, “While this project has not yet completed, Ryan Construction has met the good faith efforts goal for workforce inclusion.”

The total stadium construction cost, which began last April after the demolition of an old shampoo factory, includes $28 million in State loans and grants; $22 million from the City; a $748,100 Metropolitan Council “livable Communities” grant; $13 million in private contributions; and $11 million from the St. Paul Saints, who will be the ballpark’s primary tenant.

“We had an old industrial site that was polluted — it wasn’t fit for housing,” recalled St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. He told the MSR prior to the Saints’ May 21 home opener and pre-game festivities, “This was such a win-win situation.”

“Mayor Chris Coleman was the driving force that got it done,” noted Saints Co-Owner Mike Veeck, who praised his leadership. He told the MSR that former mayor Randy Kelly and the team once discussed a “makeover” of Midway Stadium in the mid-2000s but it never materialized.

Veeck noted that talks of a new downtown stadium that began in 2010 were more fruitful under a new administration: “He [Coleman] never forgot [that] he said, ‘I’m going to build a ballpark for you,” recalled Veeck.

Coleman said the new ballpark “helps vitality” in the Lowertown area, joining the Green Line light rail just a couple of blocks away and other new businesses and existing businesses in the area.

Bilal Saleem
Bilal Saleem

Bilal Saleem, who lives in Lowertown and owns and operates a barber shop there, agrees with the mayor. He is the only Black vendor operating in the ballpark. “This is the first ballpark I ever cut at,” he told the MSR in between customers before the game.

“What I did prior to the stadium being completed, I contacted one of the [team] general managers. He indicated to me they would allow me to cut hair at the games. So I took him up on that.”

“I’m really proud of the work we did to ensure that the building of the stadium reflects the diversity of the community,” said Coleman. “It’s the commitment of the city to make sure that everything we do reflects the diversity of our community.”

Kingston pointed out, “A lot of work went into the workforce inclusion efforts. It was a really great achievement to see so many people involved in the project.”

Asked if her office’s monitoring efforts will continue now that the ballpark is open, the HREEO director says discussions are underway in this regard. “We will always have discussions around diversity” on any City-funded project, Kingston said.

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.