The crisply designed, wildly popular ballpark in Lowertown St. Paul brings minor league baseball into the modern era

By Joel Hoekstra

St. Paul Saints fans had plenty of reasons to be giddy when their team trotted onto the field on the night of May 21. For starters, it was the home opener, and the weather was perfect. What’s more, the carnival atmosphere of a Saints game—haircuts on the concourse, a pig in a tutu, wacky competitions with fans dressed in colorful costumes—always promises a good time no matter how the hometown team plays.

But the biggest reason for all the excitement? The game marked the first time the team had played in CHS Field, a gorgeous new 7,000-seat ballpark made of glass, dark masonry, blackened steel, and western red cedar in the city’s historic Lowertown neighborhood. The new facility is a far cry from the Saints’ former home, an unremarkable cement stadium in the city’s industrial Midway district. A few diehards claimed to miss the old venue’s cramped concessions and lack of proper bathroom facilities, but Saints owner Mike Veeck was not among them.

“It’s beautiful,” he says of the new ballpark. “We’ve been leaving the gates open during the day so people from the neighborhood can come in and take a look.”

Technically, CHS Field, publicly funded at a cost of $63 million, is owned by the City of St. Paul. But the Saints are its principal tenant, and the team played a significant role in the ballpark’s design and development. Working with Ryan Companies, the architect of record, Veeck approached Julie Snow, FAIA, of Minneapolis-based Snow Kreilich Architects to serve as design architect. Snow had never designed a sports facility, but the idea didn’t faze her. “They didn’t ask how many ballparks we’d done,” says the architect, widely known for her rigorously modern designs for residential and industrial clients. “The Saints wanted a ballpark that fit their culture and location, not just a stadium that had been built a million times before.”

St. Paul’s Lowertown is an historic district filled with brick-and-timber buildings erected more than a century ago, when baseball was just beginning to take root as America’s national pastime. Many Saints fans and local observers expected the team to look to Baltimore’s Camden Yards, built in 1992 yet styled like an old-timey ballpark, for inspiration. But Veeck told Snow and Ryan Companies he wanted a park that was both unique in its design and seamless in its integration with the neighborhood. “I said, ‘I don’t want to be able to tell where the Farmers’ Market ends and the ballpark begins,’” Veeck recalls. “This is an established, hip, young neighborhood. We’re the interloper. We need to fit in.”

Snow addressed these concerns by designing a park that she describes as “porous.” Visitors approaching the park via Fifth Street can see directly through the gates into the field’s verdant interior. And because the architecture is less like a fortress and more like a screen, most spots inside the park enjoy wide views of the multistory warehouses that loom over Lowertown. CHS Field can seem like just another downtown park—as green, airy, and inviting as nearby Mears Park or Rice Park.

But fitting the ballpark into the confines of the site was tricky. Formerly home to a large industrial facility, the brownfield property had to be carefully remediated and capped off. (Significant portions of the original slab, walls, and foundation piers were reused, and virtually all of the concrete from the existing Gillette building was crushed and used as structural fill.) The site was also hemmed in by historic structures, highways, and—above and below—flight traffic from a small regional airport, and a sewage line. “It’s a remarkable achievement,” says Mike Ryan, AIA, director of architecture and engineering for Ryan Companies. “Solving the design puzzle was challenging.”

The new field has plenty of the amenities that Midway Stadium lacked: ample concessions, a clubhouse, a media facility, and neon signage in a fetching Dutch font. There’s also a 360-degree path around the field, allowing restless fans to take in the game (and the antics) from all angles. On a recent night, some fans with standing-room-only passes leaned over the metal railing overlooking right field while others sipped craft beers on a grassy berm behind left field. “The 360-degree concourse fosters a sense of community,” says Snow. “Everybody at the game can see everybody else. I think that’s really important to creating an intimate experience with the game.”

Baseball may be the center of that experience, but shenanigans, socializing, and sipping beer are also key components of going to a Saints game. CHS Field is the backdrop for nonstop goofballing, but Snow says she never thought about designing a building that was equally “quirky” or “full of surprises.” Architecture isn’t the right medium for that, she says: “It’s the Saints’ job to put the fun in the building.”

Location: St. Paul, Minnesota
Clients: City of St. Paul; St. Paul Saints
Architect of record: Ryan A+E
Design architect: Snow Kreilich Architects
Sports architect: AECOM
Design-builder: Ryan Companies US
Design landscape architect: Bob Close Studio
Landscape architect of record: Ryan A+E
Size: 347,000 square feet (63,414 enclosed)
Cost: $63 million
Completion: May 2015
Photographer: Paul Crosby


“In a project like this one, where you need to be very strategic about where you put the dollars, they kept the enclosures minimal and spent a lot on the cedar soffits. I bet those soffits just give a huge aura to the place.”

“This is the best small ballpark I’ve ever seen, and then you see how it’s knitted into the community around it. This is what architecture can do, and it’s very powerful.”