Minnesota Thunder eyes Parade Stadium

Pro soccer team adds Lowry Hill site to list of possible venues

LOWRY HILL – A high-tech artificial turf purchased by the Park Board earlier this month keeps the ball rolling forward in talks about possibly relocating the state’s professional soccer team to Downtown.

Minnesota Thunder President Jim Froslid said the team has had conversations with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board about Parade Park, and the Board’s recent decision to install $1.2 million of turf there could create an opportunity.

“It still remains an option, I believe,” Froslid said last week. “We’re exploring options, and the bottom line is we’re looking for a better place for not only our team but our fans, too.”

The Thunder currently play home games at St. Paul Central High School. It’s been looking for a permanent home since leaving its stadium in Blaine in 2004, Froslid said.

Parade Park, situated just west of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, was once the home to a 19,000-seat stadium that hosted high school football games, minor league baseball, and big name concerts like Simon and Garfunkel.

Park Board Superintendent Jon Gurban fondly recalls as teenager in the1960s hanging out under the Friday night lights at Parade Stadium, where the week’s premier prep football games drew spectators from across the city to watch.

“It was a place where the community could come together,” Gurban said.

The kind of thing a kid went to regardless of who played. “It was all about meeting people. It’s where you started to establish relationships and trust with people.”

Since the old stadium was demolished, fields at the park have been used for youth and adult recreational sports, mostly softball and soccer. When Cirque Du Soleil approached the Park Board a few years ago about staging an event there, Gurban said they reconsidered its uses.

“We were honored that they chose the site, but it also emphasized to us how [the way] we were using the site was not to its greatest benefit,” Gurban said. “It started us thinking a little more [that] we should maybe raise the bar.”

The Park Board approved plans Jan. 3 to resurrect a smaller version of the old Parade Stadium, which was torn down in the early 1990s due to its increasing disrepair. It approved a contract to install the artificial turf and also OK’d a list of other amenities like scoreboards and bleachers as money becomes available.

“The concept, in its simplest form, is re-creating a sense of place for our community,” Gurban said.

High school and recreational sports will be a part of the mix, but the Minnesota Thunder has also been in the Park Board’s mind, Gurban said.

“Soccer is growing in popularity,” he said. “The location of the stadium, on the 394 corridor, I think plays into their ticket-holder demographic. We certainly would entertain and have had discussions with them.”

No formal proposal exists, but Froslid said the team will continue to watch the Parade Park site. The artificial turf the Park Board is investing in is a quality approved for play up to the World Cup finals, he said.

“It’s going to be a very soccer friendly venue,” Froslid said. “If it fits the minimum requirements, we’re going to take a look at it.”

The team has also talked with St. Paul, Froslid said. It’s looking for a long-term home that could accommodate about 20 games per summer, in addition to many of its youth soccer camps and about seven women’s soccer home games.

Some of the things it would need include a press box, scoreboard, sound system, locker rooms and seating for a few thousand fans. Another must is parking, of which Parade Park has plenty. In fact, available parking was a factor in the Park Board’s decision to pursue a larger use there, Gurban said.

After the Guthrie relocated and the Walker Art Center built its own ramp, revenue at the Park Board lot dropped.

Soccer fan and Downtown resident Mark Wheat has mixed thoughts about the Parade Park option.

“To be honest, as a purist, playing soccer on artificial turf still has never won me over,” Wheat said. “I’m not sure if that would be a good thing for the team.”

The location itself, though, makes perfect sense for a number of reasons, said Wheat, who grew up about 100 miles north of London, rooting for the Manchester United team. Across the pond, soccer has always been an urban sport, and so a move Downtown would be a step closer to those roots, he said. Plus, it’s an accessible and familiar area for suburban fans.

The games are family-friendly events, Wheat said. In addition, there’s a “core fan club that play instruments, bang drums, play trumpets and things like that to give it a festive feel,” he said.

Professional sports or not, Realtor Betsy Rubin, 31, who lives just up the road from the park, said a stadium would be a good amenity for the area.

“I think that’s exciting for the neighborhood,” Rubin said. “Anything that supports youth involved in sports is good.”

Filmmaker Jeff Hohman, 59, has lived across the street from the area for over three decades. He said a stadium could be nice or a nuisance, but he has some fond memories of the old stadium. He remembers sitting with his wife and listening to the Simon and Garfunkel concert from their back stoop.

“Parking’s always been an issue,” Hohman said. “We’ve just gotten used to that. It’s something the neighborhood lives with.”

 

Reach Dan Haugen at 436-5088 or [email protected].