As it turns out, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman isn’t all that averse to interfering with ongoing talks between Minneapolis and a group hoping to building a soccer-specific stadium near Target Field.
Last month, in response to a question about any discussions between St. Paul and the prospective owners of the Major League Soccer franchise, Coleman’s spokeswoman Tonya Tennessen said that the mayor is “not interested in interfering with conversations currently underway in Minneapolis.”
And in response to a follow-up question as to whether anyone had approached the city about exploring a St. Paul location for the stadium, Tennessen said: “We’re not commenting on soccer.”
Monday, however, the city’s intentions toward soccer became a bit more clear: Coleman, it seems, does not want to interfere … for now. Tennessen confirmed that Coleman and his deputy mayor Kristin Beckman had, in fact, met with Bill McGuire, the current owner of the lower-level Minnesota United and the leader of the MLS ownership group, on May 21. She termed that meeting as informal and broad, ending with an understanding that if talks fail in Minneapolis, they would talk again.
The city does not want to do anything to interfere with talks in Minneapolis and realizes those are ongoing, Tennessen said, in reference to the creation Friday of a work group of city staff and elected officials in Minneapolis to study stadium issues. “If a deal is not struck,” she continued, “the mayor would be open to having soccer remain in the region and would be open to discussions about having them in St. Paul, including the bus barn site.”
The former bus barn site is near the intersection of the University and Snelling that is served by the Snelling Avenue station on the Green Line. It is currently owned by the Metropolitan Council.
Rumors began circulating last month
Rumors about locating a soccer stadium in St. Paul instead of Minneapolis were fueled last month by comments that Minnesota United President Nick Rogers made at a Minneapolis community meeting.
“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 near the end of a forum on the soccer stadium hosted by City Council Member Alondra Cano. “That’s important. It’s important that the community wants us to be there.”
At the time, Rogers wouldn’t elaborate and Coleman no-commented. But the prospective owners seem increasingly frustrated with the lack of support among elected officials for what they consider a small request — no sales tax on stadium construction and no property tax assessed on the estimated $125 million value of the proposed stadium. At a Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal forum of sports team owners May 10 — held in St. Paul — McGuire said “there are challenges in terms of getting the legislative community on board to do much of anything right now.”
St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kramer attended that breakfast forum, and said Monday he is supportive of regionalism and complimented groups such as Greater MSP that try to assure that cities within the region don’t compete with each other for economic development. While Minneapolis wouldn’t be his first choice for the soccer stadium, it would still be a win for the region if it brings MLS to the Twin Cities.
“But it would be horrible for the region if Minnesota can’t meet the necessary infrastructure needs for MLS” and the franchise is given to cities like Sacramento that have been pushing hard for one. To avoid that, St. Paul should be ready to step in and try to put together a stadium deal, Kramer said. Of the bus barn site, he said it is currently exempt from property taxes, so not collecting taxes if a stadium is built there is not a loss of revenue for the city.
‘Time is running out’
An interview Kramer gave over the weekend with KSTP may have caused the mayor’s office to be more expansive in acknowledging its activities. On Monday, Kramer said he has spoken with city leaders and they have expressed interest, but also that he hasn’t been involved in any formal or official talks with city officials related to soccer. “St. Paul is a big small city,” he said. “I run into them in the skyway. I’m at events the mayor and council are at. It would be silly for us not to talk about it because time is running out.”
During the Business Journal forum, McGuire was dismissive of reports about a league-imposed deadline of July 1 for a stadium deal, advising against getting “too caught up about hard deadlines.” MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott — the league’s No. 2 administrator — however, gave a conflicting statement to the Star Tribune a few days later, saying the deadline was, in fact, hard.
When asked about the impact of that statement, especially given that the Legislature had just adjourned and isn’t expected back in session until March of next year, league spokesman Dan Courtemanche said only: “We do not have any additional comment beyond what was stated in the Star Tribune article.”
It was after that that the Minneapolis council created the work group to report back to the city council, first in September and then again at the end of 2015. Some city elected officials, including Council Member Jacob Frey, have been meeting with team officials to talk about way to overcome objections to some details of the proposal. Any agreement would likely require legislative authority next year.