On Monday, the City of St. Paul moved another step closer to getting a MLS stadium. Close as they may be there’s still there’s no cigar and no concrete announcement that the stadium will indeed be located at the Midway bus barn site.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber flew into the Twin Cities early Monday afternoon and met with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire and team president Nick Rogers. The group toured the Midway bus barn site and then met at Salut on Grand Avenue for an hour. They drove a few blocks away to meet with Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and finally conducted a quickly assembled press conference in Lowertown at Mears Park.
Garber apologized for the hasty press conference and admitted that he had hoped to slip in and out of the Twin Cities quietly. However, Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated broke the news earlier in the day that the Commissioner was in St. Paul to talk about the proposed soccer stadium site. Garber said he had not originally planned the press conference but the Twin Cities seemed to be buzzing about the news.
“I think it speaks to where the league is that in the community here, everybody is excited about Major League Soccer and bringing the league to this community.” said Garber.
The Commissioner said he had a productive day, meeting with St. Paul Mayor Coleman and touring the site which he said was his main purpose of the visit.
“I’m very impressed with it,” said Garber. “It’s very centrally located and I think it has the opportunity to be transformational for bringing these two great cities together. We’ve really been focused on this market because we believe in what’s happening in this community. It’s filled with millennials and it’s got a great ethnic energy. Those are the two things that have been driving the growth of MLS.”
Garber said McGuire [absent from the press conference] is still working out the terms of the deal but the league itself needed to get comfortable with the Midway location. “We had to make sure there was a vision there where we could see an MLS stadium being successful. I really love this central location. It’s on a train line near a freeway in an area that has a lot of growth going on and a lot of growth coming,” Garber said.
The MLS commissioner said they still have a lot of work to do yet but the Midway site could be perfect for this new MLS team. “I can tell you that I think a soccer stadium for an MLS team at the Midway site could be wildly successful,” said Garber. “I’m impressed with it. It gives us the opportunity to do some things that our clubs and the league have been very successful at and focused on which is to be transformational. To take a site that needs some work and hasn’t had a whole lot going on for quite some time and when you can take all the energy of our players and all the fans that will come into that site, twenty to thirty times a year, we can be a catalyst for growth. That’s how we’ve grown our league.”
At one point Garber was asked if they were now only dealing with St. Paul and not Minneapolis. He answered that MLS has not had discussions with Minneapolis and that it would be a better question for Bill McGuire. The reporter frustratedly shot back that McGuire wasn’t talking to anyone. Garber calmly replied that McGuire “was doing what an owner should do: figuring out the right location, getting public support and getting relationships together.”
Mayor Coleman said that the city has been working closely with Rick Birdoff who is the owner of the Midway Center shopping strip mall that is ripe for a transit oriented development. Coleman said that Birdoff sees the soccer stadium as a catalyst to move forward with redevelopment of the site.
While the public is still waiting for a direct confirmation that a soccer specific stadium will be built at the St. Paul Midway bus barn site, details of the financing seem to becoming clearer. Coleman said when they met with the governor on Monday he reiterated his support of the legislative change that would be necessary to support the continuation of that tax exempt status.
Coleman was asked what that five worded legislative change was that Governor Dayton had referred to in an MPR interview in late August. “Tax exempt status for stadiums is sort of a given,” said Coleman. “Historically they’ve been owned by public entities and are public property and there’s a tax exempt status for that. With CHS Field they wanted to make sure there was no question about that so they introduced language to make sure it had tax exempt status.” Coleman said the wording would be changed to include “a publicly owned soccer stadium.”
The proposed bus barn site is currently owned by Metro Transit which is run by the Metropolitan Council. Tom Collins, spokesperson for the St. Paul Port Authority who is working on the financing of the soccer stadium deal, also attended the press conference on Monday. Collins spoke to Northern Pitch and confirmed what Minnesota Public Radio’s Tim Nelson reported last week. Collins said that they are in negotiations with Metro Transit and the Met Council trying to figure out how to develop a long term lease of at least 30 years which is the life of a stadium.
Collins said the Port Authority is working on a deal that would have Minnesota United pay for the stadium and then give it to the city of St. Paul. The Met Council would continue to hold the land that has been off the tax rolls for 50 years and lease it to the city. “That’s exactly what we are looking to do,” said Collins. “That’s all Metro Transit would have to do is collect a check.”
The Port Authority had said recently that the revenue from the leasing of the land would go to help with operational expenses for Metro Transit throughout the Twin Cities Metro area. The ask for the Legislature might not be such an uphill battle with leasing revenue streams being distributed throughout the five county metropolitan area with increased Metro Transit service.
“That’s exactly why were are involved with this,” said Collins. “It’s a good deal for them. It’s a good deal for us. It’s a good deal for Minnesota United.”
Garber also said that McGuire would prefer to see the team start playing with MLS in 2017 but says no decisions have been made yet. Currently the league is at 20 teams, with Atlanta joining in 2017 and Los Angeles’s second team due to start in 2018. If Minnesota were to join the league in 2017, MLS would have an even 22 teams for one year, before moving to an odd number when LA starts.
Sources have said that several scenarios could happen if the league enters in 2017. Minnesota United would like to remain in Blaine, but expand the seating to somewhere between 15,000 to 17,000. MLS would prefer the team to play at a stadium like TCF Bank Stadium or the Twins Target Field. The team could possibly play at the NSC for a season, with larger-drawing games being played at Target Field, home of the Pohlad-owned Twins. The Pohlads are also part-owners of Minnesota United’s MLS group.