Coleman: St. Paul ‘only viable path’ for Minnesota pro-soccer stadium

MinnPost photo illustration by Corey Anderson
Mayor Chris Coleman: "The St. Paul site is the only viable path at this point."

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced Thursday that he is all-in on recruiting Major League Soccer to build a stadium in the city for a new expansion franchise.

Coleman, who has been a bit coy about the city’s interest, said that the league’s assertion that a July 1 deadline for a Minneapolis stadium deal was real and had passed provides “a small window of opportunity to make sure Minnesota has a Major League Soccer team.”

The location he is pushing is the former bus barn site on Snelling Avenue between I-94 and University — walking distance from the Green Line’s Snelling Ave. station. It is currently owned by the Met Council, which has been preparing to offer it for sale. Because it is currently untaxed, keeping it so under a stadium plan would not cost the city and other governments existing revenue.

“The enthusiasm around the USA winning the Women’s World Cup demonstrates that there is growing support for soccer,” Coleman said in a morning statement. “The St. Paul site is the only viable path at this point. Not only would a stadium at this location take advantage of all modes of transportation, but it would substantially accelerate redevelopment in the area.”

“Given the MLS deadline, I think we need to move expeditiously to get a project built on the Snelling and University site,” Coleman said in the statement. “Minnesota deserves a Major League Soccer franchise and I’m prepared to work to make that happen for Minnesota and St. Paul.”

At a late-morning press availability, Coleman said he thinks talks could move quickly. “I believe that in the next few weeks we could have a clear path forward for a stadium on that site.” He said the details of what tax breaks would be asked for are still to be worked out but Coleman said the fact that much of the site hasn’t been on the tax rolls for 50 years makes it easier.

 The site is not exactly downtown, but it is between the two metro area cores and is served by light rail as well as exits from I-94. The region’s first bus rapid transit line along Snelling — linking Rosedale to the Blue Line at 46th Street — will be finished before a stadium could open. There is also a city owned parking ramp near that could be expanded.

Coleman said Wednesday morning he thinks he would have support of City Council members and has spoken with the city’s legislative delegation. While he said he is not sure if legislative action would be needed but didn’t think that would make it impossible to meet MLS deadlines.

“If we have a committment and a plan going forward, even if there were required legislative approval, we could sufficiently demonstrate support that would satisfy MLS’s concerns,” Coleman said. “In my conversations with Deputy Commission Abbott yesterday, they need a real sense that there’s a plan as opposed to a hope.

St. Paul talks heat up

St. Paul has been playing a peripheral role in the soccer debate since mid-May when Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire met with Coleman and his deputy mayor to talk about putting the stadium in the capital city. At the time McGuire was becoming frustrated with both state and Minneapolis politicians but had been having some success in private meetings with some Minneapolis council members.

The only public admission that the ownership group was considering other host cities came in a lightly attended community meeting sponsored by Council Member Alondra Cano May 19. During a forum on soccer and the stadium, United President Nick Rogers said: “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. That’s important. It’s important that the community wants us to be there.”

Rogers wouldn’t say anything more and Coleman, through a spokeswoman, said he wasn’t interested in interfering with ongoing talks between the team and Minneapolis. It was two weeks later, however, that the mayor’s office acknowledged that the initial meeting with the team had already happened.

former bus barn site
City of St. Paul
The location Mayor Coleman is pushing is the former bus barn site on Snelling Avenue between I-94 and University.

St. Paul talk heated up last week when MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said the league had set a deadline of July 1 to have a stadium deal and since that had passed he was interested in meeting with St. Paul.

The issue isn’t really whether St. Paul had sites that would meet MLS desires — downtown or near so — but whether the political leaders would accept the demand for two tax breaks. The first would be the forgiveness of sales taxes on stadium construction. The second was making the stadium itself exempt from ongoing property taxes. All other arenas and stadiums benefited from both exemptions but all are — legally, at least — publicly owned. The soccer stadium was to be privately owned although McGuire has said he is open to having it put under a public authority as is the case with the new Vikings Stadium and Target Field.

Is Coleman of being used by the league and the team to get a better deal from Mineapolis? “I go into all these negotiations with eyes wide open. I have made it very clear to the ownership group that I have no intention of being used as a pawn in the negotiations across the river. I’m confident these are very serious negotiations and hopefully we can get something done.”

Whither Minneapolis?

The initial proposal by the McGuire group was for a new stadium in an underdeveloped area next to the Minneapolis Farmers Market near Target Field. Minneapolis has formed a work group of senior staff, Mayor Betsy Hodges and some council members, to look in to the request and study its implications on tax revenue, development and other facilities such as city owned Target Center.

“I’m not at all surprised that Mayor Coleman excited about the potential of Major League Soccer,” said Council Member Jacob Frey who is leading the effort in Minneapolis. “Thinking regionally, an MLS team could do tremendous things for either city. But obviously I’m biased. My first choice is Minneapolis.”

Frey doubted the cities would get into a bidding war for the stadium and said he wasn’t yet sure if the St. Paul effort would change Minneapolis’ timetable which calls for a final work group report to be finished by December.

Coleman said he has spoken with Hodges about his interest, saying he had not wanted to interfere but decided to move ahead when the July 1 date passed and Abbott said he wanted to talk to St. Paul.

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Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Brad James on 07/09/2015 - 10:43 am.

    Heck of job

    The persistently broke City of Saint Paul now has shiny new plans to ensure it stays persistently broke. Saint Paul, the city of giving away tax revenue.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/09/2015 - 11:06 am.

      Tax revenue

      Did you miss the part of the story where they want to put it on a site that is already publicly-owned and generates no tax revenue now?

      • Submitted by Scott Wood on 07/09/2015 - 11:39 am.

        The question is when that property would have otherwise been redeveloped into something taxable, and how that potential loss compares to potential increased tax revenue from nearby properties if the stadium is built.

        • Submitted by Jim Buscher on 07/09/2015 - 11:59 am.

          There has been little interest in this site for so long. Near as I can remember there was a proposal for a Best Buy about 10+ years ago. A home improvement store (either a Lowe’s or Home Depot) on the eastern side about 5 years ago. That’s it. RK Midway has pretty much abandoned any attempts at redeveloping their property. If McGuire wants to build here, I say let him. No one else is knocking on the door. The site has been an eyesore for far too long.

          Also I’ll throw out the idea that just because land is publicly owned or tax exempt doesn’t mean it can’t generate income for the public. In downtown St.Paul Regions Hospital sits on land owned by the county. But HealthPartners has a ground lease for the site. I don’t know the financials, other than the lease extends to 2066. So a lease is one way for the public to still get some income. A long term 30 year lease could potentially give the owners some stability in knowing what their costs would be. As opposed to just owning it outright and facing the unknown of what their property tax costs could be in the future.

          • Submitted by Ian Stade on 07/10/2015 - 08:14 am.

            Good idea: long term lease

            Leasing seems like it could be a way to get a place for MN United to build a privately owned stadium. What about Met Council maintaining ownership and giving MN United a 30 year lease where they can build their stadium and get no other subsidies besides the lack of property taxes which if they are 5% of 12 million, would clock in around 6 million a year, not chump change. This tax relief would help MN United grow through the unprofitable years when they are paying off the stadium/franchise fee.

          • Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/10/2015 - 12:07 pm.

            Both Regions and HealthPartners

            are private, non-profit organizations which likely qualify for a property tax exemption under Minn. Stat. 272.02.

            Subd. 7.Institutions of public charity. (a) Institutions of purely public charity that are exempt from federal income taxation under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code are exempt if they meet the requirements of this subdivision. In determining whether real property is exempt under this subdivision, the following factors must be considered:
            (1) whether the stated purpose of the undertaking is to be helpful to others without immediate expectation of material reward;
            (2) whether the institution of public charity is supported by material donations, gifts, or government grants for services to the public in whole or in part;
            (3) whether a material number of the recipients of the charity receive benefits or services at reduced or no cost, or whether the organization provides services to the public that alleviate burdens or responsibilities that would otherwise be borne by the government;
            (4) whether the income received, including material gifts and donations, produces a profit to the charitable institution that is not distributed to private interests;
            (5) whether the beneficiaries of the charity are restricted or unrestricted, and, if restricted, whether the class of persons to whom the charity is made available is one having a reasonable relationship to the charitable objectives; and
            (6) whether dividends, in form or substance, or assets upon dissolution, are not available to private interests.
            A charitable organization must satisfy the factors in clauses (1) to (6) for its property to be exempt under this subdivision, unless there is a reasonable justification for failing to meet the factors in clause (2), (3), or (5), and the organization provides to the assessor the factual basis for that justification. If there is reasonable justification for failing to meet the factors in clause (2), (3), or (5), an organization is a purely public charity under this subdivision without meeting those factors. After an exemption is properly granted under this subdivision, it will remain in effect unless there is a material change in facts.
            (b) For purposes of this subdivision, a grant is a written instrument or electronic document defining a legal relationship between a granting agency and a grantee when the principal purpose of the relationship is to transfer cash or something of value to the grantee to support a public purpose authorized by law in a general manner instead of acquiring by professional or technical contract, purchase, lease, or barter property or services for the direct benefit or use of the granting agency.
            (c) In determining whether rental housing property qualifies for exemption under this subdivision, the following are not gifts or donations to the owner of the rental housing:
            (1) rent assistance provided by the government to or on behalf of tenants; and
            (2) financing assistance or tax credits provided by the government to the owner on condition that specific units or a specific quantity of units be set aside for persons or families with certain income characteristics.

          • Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/10/2015 - 12:19 pm.

            Big box development proposals of the past

            were killed by new urbanist opposition. I imagine they’ll oppose this plan as well.

      • Submitted by Ed Kohler on 07/09/2015 - 12:01 pm.

        If soccer fans wanted to prove their superiority over the welfare-dependent fans of our other local sports franchises, they could lobby MN United’s owners to request that they pay property taxes like the businesses they compete with for our community’s entertainment dollars.

  2. Submitted by Ed Kohler on 07/09/2015 - 10:48 am.

    Go St Paul!

    Please make this your mistake.

  3. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 07/09/2015 - 10:59 am.


    deserves a major league soccer franchise? Why does the state of Minnesota deserve one? Does it deserve the Vikings, Wild, Timberwolves or Twins?

    Do the hard working taxpayers of this state deserve the bullying of the team owners to build stadiums on their dime?

    Professional sports add absolutely nothing to the quality of life here.

    • Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 07/09/2015 - 12:44 pm.

      Speak For Yourself

      Professional sports may add nothing to your quality of life here, but they add a good deal to the lives of tens of thousands of other people in Minnesota and the region. Most of whom I believe, are also “hard working taxpayers”.

      • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 07/09/2015 - 03:12 pm.


        I should have made my post a little clearer. Unlike you, I am speaking only for myself, not “tens of thousands of other people in Minnesota and the region.”

        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/09/2015 - 05:06 pm.

          Jim is speaking for everyone who doesn’t wan to pay the full…

          …price for his own entertainment, out of his own pocket.

          He – and those who agree with him – want all the rest of us to pay part of his ticket prices. According to a study done at the time the Vikings stadium matter was considered, this came to something like $77 per ticket for the 30 years or so of taxation involved.

          No wonder they don’t want to pay their own way !!!

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/09/2015 - 11:01 am.

    Let’s put up some numbers.

    With more than 1/3 of the real estate in St. Paul already tax exempt, the people of St. Paul and Ramsey County deserve some information before this proposal goes too far.

    Here are the first questions that need to be answered.

    What is the existing tax revenue on the Midway Shopping Center property?

    What would the tax revenue be on the undeveloped bus barn property, if it were sold to a private owner?

    What would the tax revenue be on a $150 million stadium at this location?

    How long do the owners propose that this property be free from taxes?

    Would the property also be exempt from city and county fees currently imposed on other tax-free properties?

    How many jobs would be lost by demolition of Midway Shopping Center? Average annual wages?

    How many jobs would be created by operation of a stadium? Average annual wages (other than team members)?

    What additional infrastructure would be required, at what cost, and at whose expense?

    What site remediation, if any, would be required, at what cost and at whose expense (including any public funds)?

    • Submitted by Scott Wood on 07/09/2015 - 11:40 am.

      The stadium would be on the bus barn site only. They’re not proposing demolishing the shopping center.

      • Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/10/2015 - 11:50 am.

        It appears that they are,

        from all the press accounts I’ve read.

      • Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/10/2015 - 11:53 am.

        July 10, 2015, Strib

        On Wednesday Coleman invited MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott to tour the Midway site, which includes an aging strip mall and vacant acreage once used by Metro Transit to store buses.

  5. Submitted by Richard Callahan on 07/09/2015 - 11:23 am.

    The issues of stadium financing aside, this is a perfect location.

  6. Submitted by William Lindeke on 07/09/2015 - 11:47 am.

    I like the site

    The financing aside, I like the site. To me, this is not an ideal spot for mixed-use development, next to two very busy and very unpleasant streets. But perhaps the stadium could help sort out some of the challenges for the rest of the site (pictured above) which has run into problems around financing and parking. If we had a well-designed stadium surrounded by walkable mixed-use development on the corner, it would be a huge win for the city (and for the city’s tax base).

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/09/2015 - 11:50 am.

    Viable venues

    Well, St. Paul seems to want it which is always a huge factor in getting it.

  8. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 07/09/2015 - 11:54 am.

    Build it and they will come.

    St. Paul had the vision to build fine facilities for the Wild and the Saints – Major League soccer would take advantage of a great unused location easily accessed from the entire metro area. I would say onsidering how much investment Minneapolis has given to the Vikings, Twins, and Twolves, and all the their whining about the SW line, go to St. Paul where you will be appreciated!

  9. Submitted by Rob Spence on 07/10/2015 - 01:12 am.

    A Variety of Good Locations

    I’ll admit up front that I am an avid soccer fan and am very enthusiastic about MLS awarding a franchise to Minnesota.
    I honestly don’t have a strong opinion on which of the sites is chosen, I already drive to Blaine to watch MN United, so anything closer to the Twin City core is a plus for me, but one site that doesn’t seem to be getting much (or any) attention is the State Fairgrounds Grandstand. It seems to be ripe for an upgrade and they could even incorporate the existing historic stand into the design (saving construction costs). Parking wouldn’t be a problem. Tailgating and other potential vending opportunities before the match would be fantastic. Plus… the grandstand would get an overhaul and be a much better venue for State Fair music events.
    Downside is it’s not on a light rail line, but buses could run up Snelling.
    Now I’m sure the trolls will tell me how Falcon Heights doesn’t want billionaires tellin’ em what to do or that soccer is for foreigners and it’ll ruin the State Fair or some nonsense, but it seems like a pretty good option to me.
    Feel free to tell me what I might be missing.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/10/2015 - 11:57 am.

      An interesting suggestion

      but, like the owners of the Vikings, I imagine Maguire & Co. want to control the facility and the revenue it produces year ’round.

  10. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 07/10/2015 - 06:37 am.

    stadium only

    You could drop the stadium in that little rectangle of property but where is the parking? The shopping center won’t want soccer fans parking there. Not everyone will be riding the LRT which wouldn’t have the capacity anyway. That whole area is pretty busy with lots of lights and traffic restrictions and there is no way to add more traffic capacity without removing businesses that have been there for decades. So who pays for that? Like all publically supported stadium ideas, this is stupid but politicians love it. At least it is in Ramsey County.

    I like the leap of logic from the US women winning a title (was that on TV?) to that being enough proof for tens of millions of dollars in investment.

    • Submitted by Hugh Gitlin on 07/16/2015 - 12:54 pm.

      12,000 Showed up on a Wednesday night in Blaine

      United sold out the game on Wednesday (OK, it was USA Cup week). Remember, this is a team that is not playing all that well this year, and in the 2nd division.

      I think they can fill a 20-25K stadium on a weekend.

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