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Minnesota FC United to build in St. Paul

ST. PAUL - Major League Soccer and the city of St. Paul officially committed to each other Friday - on everything but paper.

ST. PAUL – Major League Soccer and the city of St. Paul officially committed to each other Friday – on everything but paper.
During a packed news conference, mayor Chris Coleman and Minnesota United FC team owner Bill McGuire announced they’ll be working together to put a roughly 19,000-seat stadium in the city’s Midway area by 2018.
“I’m not sure you ever thought this day would come, but we’re pretty excited about it,” Coleman said. “There’s a reason this area is called the Midway. It’s the epicenter of the Twin Cities.”
McGuire – while notably not criticizing Minneapolis’ efforts to land the team, even when given ample opportunity – said he chose the St. Paul site because of its central location, multiple transportation options already in place, and space to expand in the future.
“We have decided and concluded all we need to be moving ahead on this beautiful site,” McGuire said, calling the project “an iconic stadium for the Major League Soccer of the future.”
As for his signature on a contract, McGuire later added, “I haven’t actually signed it yet, but we have agreed. We have committed.”
The stadium would be wholly built with private funds, McGuire said, to the tune of $120 million. McGuire added that private developers would be responsible for any cost overruns.
Once it is done – with an opening date in 2018 – ownership of the stadium would be turned over to the city, much like the St. Paul Saints’ downtown CHS Field.
In turn, the city agreed to support McGuire’s efforts to keep the 10-acre site tax-exempt, as well as exempt sales taxes on materials during construction.
The tax exempt status would still need to be approved by the state Legislature.
Additionally, the city agreed to cover street and sewer development for the project – the price of which still has to be determined. Construction would likely not begin until May 2016.
The team currently plays in a 9,000-seat stadium at the National Sports Center in Blaine – a site which Head coach Manny Lagos noted was often at capacity.
“In all honestly, you gotta be smart about maybe making it bigger,” Lagos said.
MINNEAPOLIS FORFEITS
Earlier this year, MLS made news in Minnesota by announcing its hope to garner United – a second-tier pro-soccer team. Doing so was then contingent upon building in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood.
But Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, along with local lawmakers, bristled at the thought of so much downtown land taken off the tax rolls forever.
Enter St. Paul – eager to develop a vacant eyesore of a lot, adjacent to both the Green Line light-rail corridor and the Twin Cities’ most frequently used freeway, Interstate 94. The site, city officials reiterated, has been off the tax rolls for five decades and fell into further disuse after its primary structure – Metro Transit’s bus garage – was torn down in 2002.
In August, St. Paul city council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the deal – with a few caveats. Council members were focused on redeveloping the neighboring Midway Shopping Center, new green space and shared ramp parking. Council also approved amendments geared toward keeping the stadium open for public events.
When asked about chipping in for those surrounding projects, McGuire said, “right now, our plans call for us to focus on the almost $250 million that it will take to bring the MLS franchise here.”
That money includes $120 million for the stadium, $100 million for a franchise fee and the rest in what he called “soft costs,” McGuire later clarified.
LEGISLATURE REACTS
Additional details yet to be ironed out, including the vote from state lawmakers about tax exemptions, include a signoff from the Federal Transit Administration.
While state representative Rena Moran was present at Friday’s event to lend her support, other area representatives were not – and were more cautious about backing it.
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said she is out of the loop when it comes to the soccer deal.
“We just haven’t been involved in the soccer thing,” which is just fine, she said.
She said she and other St. Paul DFLers are concerned, however, that her House colleagues may approve the tax exemption the soccer stadium needs and then set aside the city’s other needs.
But she said the debate has not yet fully reached legislative attention nor, once the session starts in March, will it be a major attention-getter.
Republican House Tax Chair Greg Davids, R-Preston, said he has pledged that he will hold hearings on St. Paul’s tax exemption request. Although he will wait for details, he leans toward supporting the ask.
“I’m actually on this one a bit positive,” Davids said. “From what I’ve seen, I think its very doable.”
His Senate counterpart – Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook – is also waiting on details.
“I think there is a certain amount of stadium fatigue in the Legislature, but it is a pretty small ask,” Skoe said.
St. Paul DFL Rep. Tim Mahoney said he is inclined to support the stadium plans, but “I need to see the details.”
In the spring, both the House and Senate approved legislation that would ban any state tax dollars from funding a new soccer stadium. The language did not explicitly ban local tax exemptions.
While that proposal received strong support within the Legislature, it was dropped late in the process and never became law.
FORMALIZED TALKS
The city, the St. Paul Port Authority and the Met Council formalized lease discussions this month through a joint-powers agreement, and the council on Wednesday approved creation of a citizen’s advisory committee to help guide development planning at the Midway site. The city is seeking applicants for that 15-20 member committee.
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber offered a written statement of support Friday, saying the Midway site would be “a tremendous home for Minnesota’s new MLS club based on the site’s central location, close proximity to a diverse millennial population and easy access.”
Major investors backing the proposed franchise include owners of the Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Founded in 1993, the league is composed of 20 teams – including three in Canada – and has set its sights on expansion. New York City and Orlando joined MLS this year, and Atlanta and Los Angeles are expected on board in 2017, with Miami in the wings.

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