With a modern design and an obsessive attention to detail, CHS Field, the new home of the St. Paul Saints (independent; American Association), becomes one of the most noteworthy ballparks in all of baseball.
CHS Field is a puzzlebox of a ballpark: Just when you think you’ve seen it all, another surprising feature emerges. This is not a ballpark that jumps up and demands attention; this is a ballpark that woos and beckons. With a playing field and seating below street level, CHS Field blends into St. Paul’s Lowertown area, never overwhelming the historic structures in the area. Drive down Fifth Street – a major downtown artery – and you’d barely know the ballpark is there until you see the entrance plaza is set up to give you views of the playing field and scoreboard as you approach. Similarly, the ballpark is quite visible from I-94 – but at eye level, with tasteful signage.
Lowertown was where St. Paul commercial history began; it is where entrepreneurs began shipping goods up and down the Mississippi River, and it is where James J. Hill’s mighty empire centralized its railway shipping operations. Many of these old warehouses have been renovated, and today Lowertown is emerging as an up-and-coming neighborhood with trendy restaurants (Heartland, Bulldog, Barrio, Public), light-rail service originating in historic Union Depot, and plenty of amenities.
Including a new ballpark that fits the space perfectly. CHS Field occupies a little over 10 acres in the northeast corner of Lowertown, hemmed in by a freeway, major bridge, old warehouses and, best of all, the St. Paul Farmer’s Market. The ballpark is designed to showcase the transition from urban to nature that already existed in the area. As you stand behind home plate, you can see this transition: the right-field walkway, part of the 360-degree concourse, runs right up to the neighboring building, reminding us we’re still in an urban area. Walk around the concourse past center field and you’ll find a more verdant scene, with a large grassy group picnic area, a berm, and access to a nature trail and regional park already popular with Lowertown residents. Keep walking and you’ll see a dog park just outside the ballpark, behind home plate. We don’t know of many ballparks featuring a dog park complete with working fire hydrant, as is the case at CHS Field.
In CHS Field, it’s all about the finishes and how they are treated. The design motif is based on the notion of taking visual cues from surrounding warehouses and office buildings and turning them inside out. It would have easier just to clad the ballpark in red brick and call it a day – like some St. Paul politicos urged when the ballpark was in its design phases – but instead architect Julie Snow focused on the inside of the surrounding buildings and brought those elements to the ballpark. There is a brick exterior of sorts, but the bricks are done in black, and the black extends all the way around the grandstand, but along the way the finishes change from brick to blackened steel metal plates. Consistent throughout: a red cedar ceiling on the grandstand and plenty of red cedar in the second-story club. The use of red cedar as a ceiling and design element is stunning, especially at night, when lots of indirect lighting gives the grandstand concourse a warm feel.
That attention to detail manifests itself throughout the ballpark, whether it be signage or seat design. The seating is done in shades of black and grey with an occasional yellow seat thrown in. Why? No functional reason; it exists to break up the row lines and to be interesting. (There’s a proud tradition of Minnesota venues using funky seat colors, ranging from the green, gold and white seats at the old Met Center to the multicolored hues installed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Ralph Rapson at the original Guthrie Theater.)
There were some protests from the Saints faithful about the move to CHS Field; the Midway Stadium crowd who had supported the Saints from the beginning was irate about losing the peculiar charms of a mediocre 1980s municipal ballpark. Over the years the Saints had applied as much lipstick to that pig as was humanly possible, but the facility – never intended for pro ball – had reached the end of its economic life. Now, on the one hand, you can see what the faithful were protesting: they were concerned that a move to a new ballpark would mean higher prices and a corporate atmosphere.
In a way, they were right: the whimsical touches at Midway Stadium – the potted plants, the outlandish murals, train – are gone. But the vibe at CHS Field is arguably better: the attitude of the PA announcer and game-day staff hasn’t changed (indeed, there’s a table next to the field a la Midway Stadium for between-innings personnel), and the food is definitely improved (and affordable — $2.50 hot dogs?). If Midway Stadium was a hangout for adolescents and rebels, CHS Field is a place for the cool hipster, enjoying the Lowertown lifestyle.
And, in another way, the naysayers were completely wrong, because in one way attending a game at CHS Field is cheaper than one at Midway. Here’s the secret: the best seats in the house, arguably, are at the drink rail in left field, beyond the berm. These seats sell day of game for $5, and they offer a great view of the action and the grandstand, framed by a background of Lowertown brick buildings and the downtown St. Paul skyline. That is some view for $5, with the background changing as the sun sets and the lighting – both inside the ballpark and outside – shifts and shimmers.
There is one downside to those seats, one that comes with building an urban ballpark: freeway noise, which will get worse once the Lafayette Bridge reconstruction is completed. I-94 can be pretty loud during the last stretches of rush hour, and you certainly know you’re in the city now at a Saints game. But being so close to the freeway’s exit ramp does pose an interesting question: could a foul ball end up reaching the freeway and hit a car? We think so, but it would need to be a unique foul ball with just the right trajectory. In any case, it will be interesting to see if this scenario plays out – which means every foul ball over the left-field second level will be an adventure.
The capacity of the ballpark is listed at 7,000, but with SRO tickets that number could go higher. In addition to the aforementioned berm and game-day seats, options range from the usual lower-bowl seats to a indoor/outdoor luxury box holding up to 36 fans to the Star Tribune Skybox open-air suite hosting up to 50 fans to the Killebrew Root Beer Box seats located just past the left-field fence. A sponsored SRO area runs the length of right field; it sorely cries out for more drink rails. (Yes, there are plenty of drink rails in the rest of the ballpark, especially in the grandstand concourse.)
Where the CHS Field ballpark experience really shines is the second-level Securian Club space, facing toward left field. This space, done up with the red cedar and black detailing found throughout the rest of the ballpark, is a marvelous place to take in a game, with an air-conditioned club opening to outdoor seating and a patio. Patrons there have access to a private bar (shown above) as well as complimentary food and drink and valet parking. It’s not cheap ($3,500 per season) and it requires a multiyear commitment. Seats in this area are symmetry in motion: they look out toward the $5 drink rail seats, and buyers of both can feel like they’ve got the best deal in the house.
Below the Surface
We’ve focused on the fan spaces, but part of what makes CHS Field such an accomplishment is the behind-the-scenes facilities. If you spent any time at Midway Stadium as a worker or player, you know how miserable the facilities were: small clubhouses with no amenities, cramped offices with merchandise stored in the hallways and no hint of sunlight, and storage/laundry space that would try the patience of any clubbie.
All this is different at CHS Field. The service facilities are top-notch and would be the envy of any Triple-A team. (Service facilities in indy baseball are all over the board; there are some teams using temporary buildings for clubhouses.) In some ways, CHS Field is an illusion, as it feels like the ballpark is comprised of three separate buildings: grandstand, team store/offices, and center-field concessions. It’s not: the service area is below the concourse and runs from behind home plate all the way around the right-field corner and into center field, where the service/bus/delivery entrance is located. The clubhouses are spacious and modern, with custom wooden player spaces (as seen above). Off the clubhouse are a weight/workout room, a hydrology room and a large trainer’s space, with separate spaces for the coaching staff and team manager. The Saints’ clubbie now has a dedicated storage space with real laundry facilities, and players also have access to a batting tunnel with two cages. The visitors’ clubhouse is also large, with its own workout facility.
Still being built out: a clubhouse for the Hamline University Pipers baseball team, the other CHS Field tenant. This space will be used as a third clubhouse for high-school and college tournaments down the line.
Also on this level: a large concessionaire kitchen and a cistern system for processing stormwater, part of the team’s sponsorship deal with Ecolab. (CHS Field is one of the greener ballparks in baseball; read here for more information.)
Team offices are also accessed from this level, combining individual offices with conference spaces and a large open space filled with decks. The beauty of this space: it looks out onto right field, as tall windows provide plenty of sunlight during the day. These windows also overlook a sponsored three-terrace group seating area, holding 125 fans or so.
Residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul were already blessed with one of the finest facilities in professional baseball in the form of Target Field. CHS Field, at the other end of the Green Line light rail from Target Field, is a worthy bookend; you’re not going to find a finer set of ballparks anywhere. Baseball is alive and well in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and CHS Field can be seen as a great addition to the ballpark world.
Food and Drink
Several fixed stands and portable units are deployed throughout the ballpark, with specialty stands in the center-field concourse (barbeque), right-field corner (burgers) and third-base line (pizza). We also spied a standalone Snuffy’s stand; for those outside of the Twin Cities, Snuffy’s is a local chain of burger/fries/malts restaurants catering to families. Summit Pale Ale, one of the greatest microbrews ever, can easily be found in many concession stands.
If beer is your thing, the Saints brought the popular Beer Dabbler partnership to CHS Field (shown above, to the right). The beer wagon is located in the left-field corner, complete with a dedicated pregame seating area and a wide selection of microbrews. Once the game starts the seating area is open to the public.
For the Kids
This is a ballpark meant for adults, but there are two areas designed with kids in mind: the left-field berm and a center-field play area behind the batter’s eye. And what kid could pass up a cheap hot dog or a shake from Snuffy’s?
Cost: $63 million ($24 million from St. Paul grants and loans, $11 million from the Saints, $28 million from the state of Minnesota in grants and loans)
Architect/Design/Construction Team: Ryan Companies, Ryan A&E, Snow Kreilich Architects, AECOM
Owner: City of St. Paul
Tickets (2015): Home plate reserved, $18; infield reserved, $16; outfield reserved, $14; drink rail, $12; bleacher seats, $6; berm seating, $5 (available on day of game). There is some variable pricing for fireworks and day-of-game purchases as well.
Address: 360 Broadway Street, St. Paul, MN 55101. There are many routes to the ballpark, depending on your origination point. We’ll refer you to an excellent map put out by the Saints detailing driving routes and parking options. We parked for $10 next to the ballpark, but there are cheaper options throughout Lowertown. You may also find free street parking: meters in Lowertown are enforced only through 5 p.m.