Are Minnesota United’s owners looking at alternative stadium sites — outside Minneapolis?

MinnPost photo illustration by Corey Anderson
A remark Nick Rogers made during a 9th Ward forum on May 19 gave oxygen to a rumor that had been surfacing over the previous weeks, that a frustrated ownership group was considering St. Paul as a host.

The comment was delivered in an almost off-handed manner, at the end of a two-hour panel discussion on the future of professional soccer in the Twin Cities.

Nick Rogers, the president of Minnesota United, the organization awarded an expansion franchise in Major League Soccer, was summarizing the reasons why Minneapolis would benefit from having the team and a stadium in the city when he touched on what would happen if the owners failed to make their case.

“Minneapolis might say to us, ‘We don’t want you here.’ And then we’ll have to assess our options and figure out where is there a community that wants us,” Rogers said. “That’s important. It’s important that the community wants us to be there.”

Those who have been witness to previous stadium/arena wars both locally and nationally know the threat to go elsewhere — to deny teams to cities that balk at tax breaks and other subsidies — is a common tactic.

But in this case, the owners have limited options. They have franchise rights for the Twin Cities only. If they fail to build a new stadium, they would lose the franchise and Major League Soccer would instead award one to owners in another city.

All of which brings up the question: Was United threatening to find another community in the metro that would be willing to grant the tax breaks the team wants to pay for a new stadium?

An attempt to follow up with Rogers ended with a terse comment from team spokesman Eric Durkee: “Nick said he has no elaboration to his comment made last week.”

Minneapolis Council Member Jacob Frey has been one of the prime players in trying to find a way to make the soccer stadium work. Mayor Betsy Hodges has expressed opposition — not only to taxpayer involvement, but to a soccer-specific stadium for reasons that go beyond the subsidies. But Frey said many on the council are trying to find a solution.

“I think the people on the council are generally open to negotiating and many recognize the value of bringing a sport with great millennial and multicultural interest,” Frey said.

Frey has already gotten the owners to agree to several major changes from their initial proposal that had the team paying all costs of land and construction, but the city and state agreeing not to charge sales taxes on construction materials and to make the finished project not subject to property taxes.

Frey said the owners now agree to keep paying the current taxes collected on the property,  located west of Target Field; to support expansion of the downtown liquor and restaurant sales tax to the stadium site; to commit to a program of minority and community hiring; to build the facility to LEED certification standards; and to create a youth coaching and mentorship program.

Nick Rogers
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Nick Rogers

Throughout his conversations with team officials, Frey said that he was never told or warned that the team would look elsewhere in the metro for a stadium site if it could not reach a deal with Minneapolis.

Still, the remark Rogers gave during a 9th Ward forum on May 19 gave oxygen to a rumor that had been surfacing over the previous weeks, that a frustrated ownership group, led by former United HealthCare CEO Bill McGuire, was considering St. Paul as a host. St. Paul would be the primary alternative since unlike suburban sites, such as the team’s present home in Blaine, the city meets the prime criteria for a successful MLS stadium. Those stadiums have downtown or near-downtown stadiums in places with a ready supply of the dominant fan base for pro soccer — millennials and immigrant communities from soccer-playing nations.

One site that kept coming up was the former Metro Transit bus barn on Snelling Avenue near University. It isn’t exactly downtown, but it is on the current Green Line LRT and the upcoming Snelling bus rapid transit line. Yet the site is owned by the Met Council, and council Chairman Adam Duininck said a few weeks ago that he was not aware of any conversations between council staff and Minnesota United about the site.

The other entity that might have property, or would at least be involved because of its commercial/industrial real estate acumen, is the Saint Paul Port Authority. But again, no contacts have been made, according to Lee Krueger, senior vice president for real estate and development. “I have not been part of any meetings concerning a soccer stadium in St. Paul and I know that none of the sites that we own would work, either due to location or size,” Krueger said via e-mail.

Since little goes on in St. Paul without Mayor Chris Coleman knowing about it, and since soccer would be a perfect fit for his efforts to make the city attractive to millennials, the question was posed to him through a spokesperson: Has the city been approached by the team or others about working on a soccer stadium plan?

Mayor Chris Coleman
MinnPost file photo by Terry Gydesen
Mayor Chris Coleman

“The mayor is not interested in interfering with conversations currently underway in Minneapolis,” wrote Tonya Tennessen, his communications director.

But has he been asked to interfere in those conversations?

“We’re not commenting on soccer,” Tennessen replied.

St. Paul Council President Russ Stark said he too had heard rumors that the soccer group was frustrated with Minneapolis and was looking eastward. But he too hadn’t heard anything specific, and said he has not spoken to anyone associated with the team about a St. Paul location.

At least one St. Paul elected official is less reticent. Council Member Chris Tolbert said he has been thinking about the topic while watching the controversy in Minneapolis. He too knows nothing about actual approaches from owners. But if they did, he would be willing to listen.

“I think it would be great for St. Paul,” Tolbert said.

There is always the possibility that cryptic comments by team owners about looking for other sites, in other communities, is intended to plant the notion in the minds of Minneapolis officials that they’re not the only game in town. And in a region with two large cities side-by-side, losing out to the other can still be a potent threat, regardless of the present mantra by the mayors that the rivalry is over.

It’s possible St. Paul is being used as a bargaining chip without even knowing it’s in the game.

Update: The original version of this story may have suggested that Council Member Jacob Frey described the nature and breadth of Mayor Betsy Hodge’s opposition to the stadium. While Frey noted her opposition, he didn’t detail her reasoning. 

Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Jake Thunderson on 05/28/2015 - 09:48 am.

    St Paul resident here…

    No No No.

  2. Submitted by William Lindeke on 05/28/2015 - 09:49 am.

    I’m sure Saint Paul is in the loop

    Saint Paul pols are quite good at having behind closed doors conversations about big real estate deals, so I wouldn’t worry. I’d bet a lot of money they’ve been talking…

  3. Submitted by Charles Spolyar on 05/28/2015 - 10:07 am.

    Ford Plant?

    it would be cool to have a stadium right on the river.

    Or how about the industrial area right by the Surly brewery – that would be a symbiotic location!

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/28/2015 - 10:37 am.

    Competition

    It is important not to let sports moguls play the two cities off against each other. The Twin Cities should present a united front when dealing with these guys.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/28/2015 - 11:06 am.

      “a united front”

      Reminds me of the Grateful Dead lyrics:

      “We can share what we got of yours
      Cuz we done shared all of mine.”

      (St. Paul begging Minneapolis for a few crumbs now and then.)

  5. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/28/2015 - 11:10 am.

    I could care less if they locate in St. Paul.

    I’m all for a pro soccer team. I just don’t want to give them money in any way.

    The supporters of public handouts are virtually all soccer fans.

    And as to locations, why no mention of that Sears property just west of the Capitol ?? Does that property have some kind of defect ?? It looks big enough and would seem to be a very good location, convenient to transit, and is clearly under-utilized.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/28/2015 - 11:29 am.

      Sears property

      Is Sears interested in selling it? I don’t think there are grounds to take it by eminent domain.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/28/2015 - 11:41 am.

        I’m not suggesting the property be seized, rather, purchased.

        I’m just guessing, but I should think Sears would love to sell that store, which appears moribund. When I’m going through that area, I never see any significant numbers of cars in that huge lot.

        Certainly, someone from MN United or the City of St. Paul could pick up the phone and make a call to the right party about it.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/28/2015 - 03:16 pm.

          For the Right Price

          It is one of just a few freestanding Sears store left in the country. I’m sure they’re just sitting in it until they get the right offer. Retail chains don’t want to own real estate, and prefer to lease.

          That said, if there is no public subsidy (including sales tax forgiveness on building materials, I mean no subsidies), and it pays property taxes, I don’t mind if it’s in the Saintly City. But Minneapolis is a much better place to practice business socialism. “You didn’t build that business” must refer to all of professional sports.

  6. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 05/28/2015 - 11:23 am.

    Put it in the Midway. Midway Stadium or Midway Center. One’s available, I think, and the other is right on the Green Line. Let St. Paul give up tax base for it.

  7. Submitted by John Ferman on 05/28/2015 - 11:58 am.

    Let’s Be Fair

    Why should Minneapolis get MLS. It has three teans and St Paul has only one. So to share the benefits of major league sports St Paul should get the soccer team.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/28/2015 - 12:22 pm.

      St. Paul

      As a resident of Minneapolis, I have to say that’s fine with me. Let St. Paul get stuck with this.

      • Submitted by chuck holtman on 05/28/2015 - 12:54 pm.

        As another Mpls resident, I agree.

        Or when the Vikings stadium is done, we can put that on a flatbed and move it to the Ford or Sears or Snelling site and then I’d be happy to take the soccer stadium. But I can only tolerate one billionaire’s hand in my pocket at once.

        If the appeal is to our increasingly diverse community and millenials, the stadium needs to be in the urban core and accessible by non-automobile modes. Of course, it might helpfully boost the federal rating of SWLRT to put the stadium in Eden Prairie at the end of the line …

    • Submitted by Bob Quarrels on 05/28/2015 - 01:07 pm.

      Minneapolis vs. St. Paul

      The reason Minneapolis has three teams is because it foots the bill for three teams. St. Paul got the hockey team cheap, borrowing $72 million from the state to pay its share, part of which has since been forgiven. It certainly had the opportunity to cough up for the Twins and Vikings but it didn’t.

      The team’s backing off paying no property tax to paying what the land pays now certainly seems fair. It bears noting, however, that the area is being redeveloped already, thanks in part to the large stadium already sitting there. In all likelihood, the soccer stadium would only take up land that would become condos anyway.

      Seems like putting soccer on Snelling might actually encourage development where there isn’t any. But then, gosh, St. Paul or Ramsey County might have to spend money.

  8. Submitted by Scott Merth on 05/28/2015 - 05:50 pm.

    “The community wants us to be there”

    To Roger’s statement that “Minneapolis might say to us, ‘We don’t want you here,'” I would say that the sheer majority of people are supportive of soccer in the city. Where I hear objections is in the subsidizing of the construction, property taxes, etc. As such, if you want access to a certain ‘community,’ you have to pay for it through the taxes and fees that said community has put in place. In other words, taxes were used to help build in that place up enough to make it attractive for a soccer stadium, and will be needed in the future to build/maintain it sustainably.
    I’m not a huge fan of people complaining about a lack of support when a) you don’t want to pay the community for the privilege of locating there, and b) you float the idea of relocating as soon as your wish list is perceived to be too long.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 05/29/2015 - 01:24 am.

      Nope

      Actually, Minnesota United wants to pay the taxes and fees the community has put in place. And with regard to property taxes for sports teams, what is in place is paying no property taxes at all. The Vikings, Twins and Wolves pay no property taxes. Zero. Nada. Minnesota United has actually offered to pay the property taxes the existing property is generating, meaning it will pay more than all of those teams.

      The Vikings, Twins and Wolves have received more than a billion dollars in direct taxpayer subsidies for stadium construction/renovations. Minnesota United is asking for zero dollars. Its a very short wish list.

      Minneapolis also has a mayor that has not only opposes the stadium (and pretty clearly hates soccer, based on her statement) but exposed herself as a massive hypocrite by approving more direct money for the (zero property tax-paying Wolves). Minnesota United has pretty solid reasons to look elsewhere.

      • Submitted by Ed Kohler on 05/29/2015 - 07:59 am.

        Pro sports are poor comparables

        Using horrible public policy to justify even more isn’t a particularly strong argument. Think about how fast a stadium could get built if MN United and their supposed fans simply pooled their money and built what they can justify building with their own money? Nothing would stand in their way.

        That’s something the team and fans could really be proud of. And, would be a huge differentiator from the behavior of most pro sports franchises in this town.

        Granted, that’s probably not going to happen since there are far too many corporate welfare queens involved in MN United’s ownership. And fans don’t seem to be proud enough to tell them to stop begging for public money.

  9. Submitted by James Cullum on 05/28/2015 - 10:51 pm.

    St Paul would be great

    Why should Minneapolis have all the sports teams? Has Bill McGuire been spotted getting off of a private plane at Holman Field?

  10. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/29/2015 - 03:26 pm.

    Virginity cannot be recaptured when it comes to stadiums

    Let’s see. How much has government shelled out to subsidize football – two stadiums that put a total cost of more than a billion dollars. Baseball – substantial government subsidies – fields in Minneapolis and St. Paul – and also a smaller one at the University. Hockey and basketball. major dollars for the Wild and the Gophers – and for the Gophers, different facilities for each gender. Golf course – numerous public clubs. And let’s no forget “horse racing.”

    Then there is soccer. The highest youth participation sport in the state. The primary sport of our international community, and a high interest sport for the young people who grew up playing it. At the University, only a woman’s team – no Big Ten men’s soccer team. For the pros, essentially a field with bleachers. Of course,older white males (the guys with power) as a group never played soccer and don’t appreciate the sport. They would rather be fanatical about over sized, over egoed and over paid athletes who too often have been really bad role models.

    Frankly, since we don’t have the hooliganism of European football, this is actually a place where people from all backgrounds can come together – on the field and in the stands. It is a lot closer to pure competition than we have today – anyone can kick a ball. If you have an averaged sized kid who you don’t want have their head bashed in – boy or girl – soccer is the sport for you.

    I have to think that those unwilling to provide any public support for a soccer stadium is related to race and ethnicity – we don’t want to acknowledge that this is a community that is part of a global economy and fair competition in which no one is excluded is exactly what soccer represents. For some people, it is foreign and we aren’t the best in the world, so there is fear of embracing the future. I’m a little ashamed of the liberal politicians who don’t get the significance of this decision. Given how they have so totally seduced by other sports (let’s not forget about things like All Star games, which are heavily subsidized), a few million dollars in “prime the pump” money is just the sort of thing that cities spend to attract new startup businesses with growth potential. If you don’t understand that is what soccer is, you aren’t paying attention. The only reason to oppose this is because you are in the pocket of the Vikings, Twins and the others that always seem to have their hands out.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/29/2015 - 10:54 pm.

      I know the race card is real handy, but this is the strangest…

      …use of it I’ve ever seen – really bizarre.

      I doubt much that the opposition has anything at all to do with loyalty to other sports teams – in fact, it is fueled by our outrage that those teams’ wealthy owners are publicly subsidized AT ALL.

      I would like to see a pro soccer team here. I just don’t want another single dime of public money to go to ANY pro sports operations. Either pay your own way, or go elsewhere. The owners of this soccer franchise are amongst the wealthiest people in Minnesota.

      I know how crushed you true soccer fans are about feeling left out of the public subsidy that all the other sports are getting. But the fact that the taxpayer has been defrauded by pro sports – with the willing help of our elected officials in city, county, and state government – IS NOT AN ARGUMENT FOR MORE OF THE SAME !!

      This specific argument is something you true soccer fans should abandon, if you want to get more traction with public opinion. Reminding us of how we’ve been screwed over only increases the resistance. In the meantime, while arguing in the manner you do, you fans remain just about the ONLY people who want a public subsidy – except of course for shills like Jacob Frey.

      No one is being persuaded to champion your cause by your argument here.

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