The St. Peter City Council Feb. 8 took action to make development a little easier for at least one project in town.
A proposed fieldhouse development is set for 967 North Third Street, just south of Hy-Vee in St. Peter. That falls within the city’s commercial development Gateway Overlay district. The point of the gateway ordinance, as originally written, was to promote high quality development standards in the Hwy. 169 corridor, where many drivers are entering the city on both the south and north sides.
At its Feb. 8 meeting, the council voted to maintain the ordinance but relax the rules slightly. And now, developer Brad Baker is eyeing a fall 2021 opening for the fieldhouse.
“The design features and development standards included in this division are intended to create a memorable and positive first impression upon those entering the city, particularly the motoring public,” the ordinance reads. “The District also intends to establish an image and character that is distinctly St. Peter. The principles of the Gateway Overlay District are to be carried out through standards related to site planning, signage, architecture and landscaping.”
Community Development Director Russ Wille noted that, at the time the ordinance was crafted, councilors were concerned about the new Dollar General going in off of Old Minnesota Avenue, with the backside facing Hwy. 169. That store was built in a typical manner for the chain, but in a way that some interpreted as not so visually appealing.
“The council at the time didn’t feel that was the visual identity the city wanted to have,” Wille said.
The ordinance, then, called for the use of steel, vinyl or aluminum as an exterior finish to be limited to 25% of any exposed building facade. The remaining 75% of each facade would need to be brick, stone, precast concrete panels, block, glass or stucco. Examples of new developments that abided by the ordinance include the Kwik Trip and Dunkin Donuts on the south side of town and the Best Western on the north side of town.
“Some of these businesses say ‘We’re glad to meet these standards, because now I have assurance that the neighbors are going to have some level of quality to them,’” Wille said.
In order to satisfy the gateway requirements, fieldhouse developer Baker, who leads the baseball program at Gustavus Adolphus College, noted he would need to use a higher quality finish on all four sides of his building structure, which would add $28,000 to cost.
Baker never indicated that he would nix the project if that didn’t change, but he asked the city if it could relax the ordinance rules where appropriate. Since the building is on the west side of North Third Street, there is only one side facing a major city artery, but the rules still applied to his whole building.
In its fall 2020 discussion, the Planning Commission discussed completely eliminating properties immediately east of North Third Street, like Baker’s, because they could be reasonably considered outside of the gateway.
After the council discussed the matter and sent its thoughts back, the Planning Commission settled on a two-tiered Gateway Overlay District, with the original standards still applied to North Third Street properties east of North Third Street, but a second tier of regulations for properties, like the planned fieldhouse, west of the street. Structures located west of North Third Street would only need the enhanced exterior facade on building walls abutting a public street or public park.
The council approved the commission’s recommendation by unanimous vote.
Baker wants to build a fieldhouse in St. Peter to enhance baseball and softball opportunities for young players across the region. He intends to use the currently vacant land south of Hy-Vee to build a 5,000-square-foot facility with five batting cages, some weight conditioning areas and some pitching mounds.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while — really it’s a continuation of the whole building the baseball program at Gustavus,” Baker said. “Part of it was to serve an unmet need in southern Minnesota, and part of it was to attract and retain some of the best coaches in the state. What I think we can do is leverage their experience and abilities and also create an opportunity for them to help build a business.”
He added, “The bottom line is I have a couple of guys who are working for one of the top club baseball programs in the state, and it’s in the cities. A lot of kids are driving to the cities for those programs. If you see how many kids will drive 100 miles to go train and play ball in the cities, there is no reason we can’t do it in southern Minnesota.”
Baker is ready to go; the land is purchased and the site plans are drawn. Now that the gateway regulations are loosened, he can confidently move forward with construction.”
“We are starting construction in the spring,” Baker said after the city officially made the ordinance change. “I think, realistically, it’s more of a fall/winter complex, because it’s inside. As much as I want to get it done quickly, we can be outside in the summer, so we won’t necessarily need it then. I would like to have it for that fall/winter season, though.”
“We’re excited about it,” he added.
Baker feels strongly about his vision.
“I’m fully confident,” he said. “It’s part of the bigger plan to really have baseball thrive in this area, whether it be with kids or with Gustavus athletes. It’s an awesome baseball and softball area, and I want to make sure the training and the facilities and the coaching is available to anyone who wants it without having to drive an hour out of town.”