The city of Minneapolis took its first official action toward a new Major League Soccer stadium Friday morning.
A resolution creating a stadium work group was added to the city council’s regular agenda by Council President Barbara Johnson and approved on a voice vote.
The resolution directs the work group to study issues surrounding the stadium proposal and report back to the council’s committee of the whole in September and then to the full council no later than its final meeting of 2015. The resolution charges the group to “determine a legislative strategy, if any, to support an MLS stadium.”
Johnson said she wants to “encourage development of such a facility.”
Members consist of council members and city staff. Among the council members are those who have expressed support for working with the proposed team’s owners as well as those who have expressed skepticism, and even opposition.
Members are Mayor Betsy Hodges, Council President Johnson, Council Members Jacob Frey, Blong Yang, Lisa Bender and John Quincy as well as city attorney Susan Segal, finance officer Kevin Carpenter, public works director Steve Kotke, deputy community development director Chuck Lutz, the city’s legislative liaison Gene Ranieri and economic development director David Frank.
Because there isn’t a quorum of members on the group, it won’t be subject to open meetings rules. The task force was characterized by Johnson as a staff group with council members in attendance.
Here’s what the resolution directs the group to consider:
1) The need or desirability for improved public infrastructure to support an MLS Stadium and potential future development in the Farmers Market area, including consideration of the impact of a stadium and related development on City-owned facilities and infrastructure needs and plans connected to the potential light rail station to be located along Royalston Avenue;
2) The potential impact of an MLS Stadium and potential future development on the City’s tax capacity, including property and sales taxes, and impacts on other publicly-owned facilities;
3) The identification of sites within the Farmers Market area for potential future development and a strategy for working cooperatively with Hennepin County and other stakeholders on financing infrastructure and related issues;
4) Analysis of soil and geo-technical data from the Farmers Market site;
5) Determination of a legislative strategy, if any, to support an MLS Stadium;
6) The identification of public benefits that could be obtained from the development of an MLS Stadium in the City of Minneapolis; and
7) Any other issues identified by the Working Group.
Hodges attended the council meeting and thanked Johnson for coming up with a way to bring people together on “what is otherwise a divisive issue.” But Council Member Cam Gordon, who said he opposes any property tax forgiveness, said the issue came up at the last minute and said it would be better to discuss the creation of the work group in council committees before it is created.
Gordon also said he was told that July 1 is a firm deadline by the MLS, and since that can’t be met that the council should wait until the MLS clarifies whether its interest in the city extends beyond that date.
Frey has been meeting privately with the prospective owners of the soccer franchise and has said he has made progress working on a compromise. The team’s lead owner, Bill McGuire, has said the owners will buy the land west of Target Field and pay all costs of a soccer specific stadium. It has requested that the state and city forgive the sales tax that would be owed on construction and exempt the stadium from property taxes.
Hodges opposes both tax breaks; Frey and other council members have been open to some version of them. Frey has proposed that the team continue to pay the property taxes now collected on the parcels but not be charged for additional taxes that would be due once the stadium is built.
McGuire’s group was awarded the league’s 24th franchise in April, but MLS officials want a soccer specific stadium to be secured before the final approval is given. The other owners are members of the Pohlad family, who own the Minnesota Twins; Glen Taylor, who owns the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx; and Wendy Carlson Nelson.
Any agreement between the city and the soccer group would likely require state approval. While lawmakers have been lukewarm, at best, over soccer — even passing a resolution in the Senate opposing any government assistance — Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has said he thinks any arrangement needs to start with the city.
Earlier in the week a senior league official said a July 1 deadline that was mentioned almost in passing after the announcement by MLS Commissioner Don Garber is in fact a firm deadline. When asked if that means the franchise deal is dead since state lawmakers will not meet again until next year, league spokesman Dan Courtemanche said only: “We do not have any additional comment.”
But at a forum of sports team owners earlier in the month, McGuire said: “I’m not even sure I remember what Don said. But I wouldn’t get too caught up about hard deadlines.”