Will the Saints ever bless Lowertown?

For Tom Whaley, it’s crunch time. Whaley is executive vice president of the St. Paul Saints, which in the Saints organization, means little except he’s probably doing six or seven jobs at once.

I visited Whaley at the Saints front office this week for a feature story I finished for the Quad Community Press (Whaley lives in Lino Lakes). On his desk he has an antique hand grenade and a “Christmas Story” mini leg lamp replica. He doesn’t worry about the grenade because the pin is still in it.

Whaley is one of two point people leading the Saints efforts to land a stadium in Lowertown. In the feature story I couldn’t say how cool that would actually be for Lowertown, but I’ll say it here. It would be cool for Lowertown. How about a long, lazy summer day of baseball in 2015? Skip work on a Thursday, hop on the light rail and catch the Twins’ day game, spend some money on downtown Minneapolis happy hours and then head back home for the Saints evening tilt?

The Saints are offering to pay $10 million for their new digs up front, with about $27 million coming from the state and the rest of the roughly $50 million project coming from the city. It’s Whaley’s job to get the ear of state legislators, and every year, no matter the economic climate, the response is usually “wait until next year.”

One state legislator I asked for comment on how the project is being perceived this year said it would be very difficult to gain support and to finance “such a project.”

If the stadium ended up in LoTo, St. Paul would like it because the Saints could sell naming rights in the high visibility area of Lowertown (I-94 motorists would see the stadium from the freeway, Whaley said.) Add to that higher foot traffic volumes around the neighborhood, and Black Dog Cafe might be getting a few neighboring competitors in what I like to call “deep Lowertown,” or south of the Farmer’s Market.

So what would happen to Midway Stadium if the Saints moved? Whaley said the land would be converted back into more cost-efficient light industrial. Let’s face it, the Midway area is neither pretty nor very historical looking. It’s industrial, and for that reason Whaley said more club level sales would result from a LoTo stadium than rebuilding in the Midway.

Don’t worry tailgaters, the first thing Whaley and the Saints are requesting from the city is a large slab of concrete. A funnier moment of our conversation was when Whaley admitted that the Saints games themselves are “incidental” compared to the two or three hours fans spend with friends drinking beer in the parking lot.

Whaley compared the Saints’ impact on downtown to the Wild. He said the Saints bring in roughly 300,000 in four months. The Wild bring in 800,000 in eight months. Think of that what you will, and the effects it will have on the Lowertown portion of downtown.

Oh, and that $2 hot dog or that $6 pint of Summit won’t be any more expensive in Lowertown, Whaley said. The Saints live in the land of being affordable and fun. It feels good to leave a sporting complex with a few bucks left in your pocket. Just thought of my Halloween 2012 costume – something truly scary – a $9 bottle of Bud Lite from Xcel Energy Center.

If you’re interested, Whaley revealed two half-baked albeit typically off-kilter Saints promotional nights for this season: “Invasive Species Night” supposedly will lure fans from Wisconsin (perhaps for extermination). And “Minsecurity Blanket Night” will probably feature a blanket giveaway in honor of Charles Schulz’ Linus character.

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