It took six weeks to set up, but Major League Soccer Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott will visit St. Paul next week to look at an alternative site for a soccer-specific stadium to house a proposed expansion team.
The meeting — and tour of a possible stadium site at the intersection of I-94 and Snelling Avenue — will take place Tuesday evening, according to a press release from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. The visit will be closed to press and public but Coleman promised a press availability on Wednesday to talk about soccer.
Abbott announced July 2 that a previously vague but now ironclad July 1 deadline for stadium action in Minneapolis had come and gone. During an appearance on Patrick Reusse’s radio show, the league’s No. 2 said he would be willing to visit the region and look at what St. Paul had to offer.
The prospective owners of a new MLS franchise are led by Bill McGuire, the former UnitedHealth CEO who now owns the lower-division Minnesota United of the North American Soccer League. Other owners are the Pohlad family, Glen Taylor, and Wendy Carlson Nelson.
The group said it would purchase land near the Minneapolis Farmers Market and build a soccer-specific stadium with its own money. It asked for two tax breaks, however — no sales tax on the construction of the stadium and no property taxes on the improved real estate. Neither was well-received by the state Legislature and both drew opposition from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges.
Hodges has since joined a staff and city council work group to look at the stadium proposal. In addition, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, last week proposed that the county take the lead in a plan near its Target Field, and even suggested using remaining sales taxes from the baseball stadium for infrastructure improvements around the market and soccer stadium.
Coleman announced July 9 that he had spoken to Abbott and invited him to town. He said he would aggressively pursue the stadium, saying the bus barn site was the “only viable path at this point” to keep the franchise in the state and not be awarded instead to other suitors such as Las Vegas or Sacramento. But Coleman seemed to think MLS was in a bigger hurry than they appear to be.
“Given the MLS deadline, I think we need to move expeditiously to get a project built on the Snelling and University site,” he said in a statement released that morning. And in a press conference later that day, he said “I believe that in the next few weeks we could have a clear path forward for a stadium at that site.”
McGuire had looked into the bus barn site as early as 2013 and had met with Coleman in May to rekindle his interest in St. Paul. Even if St. Paul agrees to support the project complete with the sales and property tax forgiveness requested by the owners, it would still need legislative approval. The Legislature is not schedule to meet again until March 8, although Gov. Mark Dayton has suggested a brief special session this month to help Mille Lacs resort owners hit by the early closure of the walleye season.
Coleman, however, said he thinks MLS will be satisfied to wait until next year if a solid plan is in place with local endorsement.
“In my conversation with Deputy Commissioner Abbott yesterday, they need a real sense that there’s a plan as opposed to hope,” Coleman said.