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No 2016 Special Session – What Now for Minnesota United?

by on 18 August 2016

One step forward – one step back. A day after the St. Paul City Council passed crucial resolutions allowing Minnesota United to start work on their stadium at the bus barn site in St. Paul, the team was thrown a setback on Thursday. There will be no special session of the Minnesota State Legislature in 2016.

“I’ve concluded that after three months of futile effort, I’m not going to call a special session,” said a frustrated Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton on Thursday afternoon.

Dayton had just emerged from what was a final attempt to reconcile differences between the Democrats and Republicans to make way for that special session.

Minnesota United has said repeatedly that they are in need of tax exemption on the property they will build the stadium on. That property had been tax exempt for 50 years under the guise of the Federal Transit Administration. The City of St. Paul has agreed to lease the land from Metro Transit, who still own the property. Minnesota United would then make payments to Metro Transit for the city. It’s believed that the exemption would save the team approximately $4 million a year in taxes.

In the final minutes of the regular session, an omnibus bill (including the tax exemption for the team) had been passed through both the house and senate and had overwhelming support from each party. But the governor vetoed the bill when he found an error in the wording of the measure that would have cost the state $100 million over three years. Dayton was also unhappy that funding for the Southwest Light Rail (hence referred to as SWLR) had been omitted along with other spending requirements.

Who’s to blame? It depends on who you ask…

Multiple sources told FiftyFive.One in mid-July that both sides were very optimistic about a special session and many of the details had been worked out, including a way to fund the SWLR by Republicans not objecting to a Hennepin County tax that would supply the money needed. Somewhere along the line, the wheels fell off and partisan politics again ruled the day. Republicans refused to fund the project and Democrats wouldn’t allow a special session without it.

After today’s meeting House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said he was disappointed with the lack of a special session and pointed fingers at the Democrats for holding out for the SWLR.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) blamed Republicans for the breakdown. He claimed that his party gave Republicans four options for funding the SWLR.

After the St. Paul City Council’s approval, the  special session with a property tax break was the next and final hurdle for Minnesota United to move forward with construction of their stadium.

So what now for Minnesota United?

The city’s planning and economic development director Jonathan Sage-Martinson has said the team could move forward with construction once they have submitted their complete design based on the site plan which passed on Wednesday. The team could then start pulling permits to start work on the site.

Work on the site would most likely not start until October… putting the timetable only weeks away from the 2017 legislative session in January. In short: other than peace of mind for the team, today’s setback doesn’t change much.

However, it’s doubtful that United ownership would actually start construction of the stadium itself until after a bill was passed in next year’s legislative session which is scheduled to begin in January. It is likely the team will continue to move forward in good faith with demolition on the site, EPA cleanup, and ground work to began creating the hole where the stadium will sit. That work would likely take three months or more depending on what is found when the earthwork begins.

Work on the site would most likely not start until October anyway and would take three to four months, putting the timetable only weeks away from the 2017 legislative session in January. In short: other than peace of mind for the team, today’s setback doesn’t change much. Even if a special session was called and an approval of the tax exemption was passed, the timeline would still be similar at this point of the construction timeline.

Soccer stadium construction can be often accomplished in 16 to 18 months.  Which means as long as Minnesota United gets their tax exemption early on in the 2017 session, they could still complete the Loons’ stadium sometime in the late spring or early summer of 2018.

Sporting Park in Kansas, looked upon as one of best stadiums in MLS, was completed in 16 months.

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