Despite Groundbreaking, Minnesota United Midway Stadium Construction Still on Hold

by on 7 December 2016

On Monday, Dec. 12, Minnesota United will hold their much anticipated groundbreaking ceremony for their Midway stadium site. While groundbreaking usually signals the beginning of construction, multiple sources have told FiftyFive.One that team owner Bill McGuire and his investors are still a ways off before “actual construction” can begin on the stadium with a small two-acre plot of land being the stumbling block.

That small section of land on the north end of the stadium is currently owned by Midway Center owner Rick Birdoff. Multiple sources have confirmed to FiftyFive.One that McGuire and NY real estate developer Birdoff have been in negotiations for the sale of that property since last year, when the stadium deal was announced.

WHAT: Minnesota United Stadium Groundbreaking
WHEN: Monday, December 12 – 2:00 p.m*.
WHERE: Stadium site – 415 Pascal St N, St Paul, MN 55104
WHO:  Minnesota United Owner Dr. Bill McGuire
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber
Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman

The bulk of the new soccer stadium will be built on Metro Transit’s “bus barn” site and will be privately financed by McGuire. It’s still not known why the approximately two acres of land is needed for the stadium. Adam Jarvi, FiftyFive.One writer and architect with experience working on soccer-specific stadiums, explained that he had laid out the profile of Sporting Park onto the bus barn property. Jarvi says it fits comfortably without the extra Midway Center land the current stadium plans show the stadium sitting on – even if it were to be laid out in the north-south direction as designed by Populous. Jarvi noted that the reason he believes Minnesota’s current design will not fit on bus barn alone is that it has more end seating. “This is a design decision, the right one in my opinion, that allows for a larger supporters section and a more balanced layout,” said Jarvi.

The decision does complicate the situation with most of the stadium sitting on public land and a small section on private. One source said that there is just nothing happening. McGuire is trying to get control of the land and he doesn’t have it. You may find this tutorial useful to understand it better.

McGuire has been reluctant to talk about the issue and Minnesota United would not comment when contacted.

Last September, when asked about the lack of a construction start date, he told the Pioneer Press, “As soon as that’s finalized, we’ll let you know. It is extraordinarily complex… It is literally too involved to try to conduct business in the newspaper… There are all these conversations going on that frankly can’t be public.”

Like any real estate deal, the issue seems to revolve around what that parcel is worth. McGuire has been insistent that he only needs several acres for the stadium and believes Birdoff’s land will become more valuable when he builds his stadium. Birdoff’s argument is the land McGuire wants is his most valuable since the Rainbow Foods owned by SuperValu is his largest tenant.

While studies have been conducted showing stadiums do not contribute to economic growth, those same studies usually didn’t look specifically at the type of areas where those stadiums were built. In the Twin Cities, stadiums have spurred growth in housing and entertainment establishments. In Minneapolis (around Target Field and US Bank Stadium) and in St. Paul (around the Xcel Center and CHS Field), those areas are clearly some of the hottest properties in the Twin Cities. Yet real estate is almost never sold at discount on speculation. That seems to be the sticking point for McGuire and Birdoff. The NY real estate developer was never intending to sell his property at Midway Center but had wanted to develop it.

In Minneapolis and in St. Paul, areas around new stadiums are some of the hottest properties in the Twin Cities. Yet real estate is almost never sold at discount on speculation. That seems to be the sticking point for McGuire and Birdoff.

The bus barn site and Birdoff’s Midway Center has been called the “Superblock.” It’s a total of 34.5 acres that has been ripe for development with the proper catalyst to spur a transit-oriented development along the Green Line light rail, the Snelling Ave. A-Line bus rapid transit. It is also adjacent to I-94, which cuts through both downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis. McGuire believes his stadium is the catalyst for Birdoff’s redevelopment. Prodigious structures such as stadiums and churches give a surge to the local economy. This remains true of extravagent structures which uplift the value of a place. And with builders like Seacrest Luxury home builders, the growth and prosperity of the place becomes imminent.

Several sources said the stalemate is why the St. Paul Port Authority became involved in September with Birdoff’s shopping center property which totals about 24.5 acres. The Port Authority — which is the industrial development arm of the city of St. Paul — had previously been involved with the stadium deal as Metro Transit and its parent the Met Council struggled to find a solution to allow the City of St. Paul to lease the land from Metro Transit and McGuire to make payments to the city. They worked out a deal and found $3 million to help the city and the Met Council do remediation to the bus barn site. Additionally, the Port Authority will oversee the cleanup of the property when it begins. That work could begin at any time paving the way for construction when the property issue is resolved.

Port Authority President Lee Krueger told the Midway Monitor this fall that the action was a preemptive move. He said that they have developed almost 80 similar districts over the years but didn’t do the site development most of the time.

“We haven’t gotten anything done yet,” Kruger told FiftyFive.One last week. “But we’ve been working on putting together some options for McGuire. We can’t really step in unless the Port needs to operate as an industrial development district. We can, however, operate as a consultant.” Kruger would not comment on details of the land deal between McGuire and Birdoff.

However the deal shakes out, those who talked anonymously expressed optimism that a deal will get done whether one of the parties blink or a compromise is found.

With no legislative stadium deal signed into law in the 2016 session and no special session called, McGuire has probably been in no hurry to close on the property. But that could change soon if a special session gets called before the new year which is looking very probable.

Sources told FiftyFive.One that the special session is likely since the omnibus tax bill, (which included the stadium tax exemption) is about to carry over into its third session in 2017. The Democrats would like to get the bills passed and the Republicans would like to move beyond the omnibus bill and don’t want the spending measure passed on their watch when they take control of both the Minnesota House and Senate in 2017.

One possibility for McGuire would be to take on another partner just for the Midway Center land. McGuire and that partner would then purchase it from Birdoff, taking him out of the picture and developing the property themselves. It’s a scenario that in the end could be advantageous to McGuire to help ensure the redevelopment fits nicely with his stadium. In the past, McGuire has spoken colorfully about the potential of a redeveloped Midway Center and ideas he had for the property.

However the deal shakes out, those who talked anonymously expressed optimism that a deal will get done whether one of the parties blink or a compromise is found.

Xcel Energy does utility work near the stadium site. Photo Brian Quarstad.

Xcel Energy does utility work near the stadium site. Photo Brian Quarstad.

Currently, Xcel Energy has been working on the site along St. Anthony which runs between I-94 and the stadium site. An Xcel crew member said they were preparing for stadium construction by burying power lines and taking down the poles and wires along St. Anthony.

A source from the city said that discussions with Populous and Mortenson Construction have stepped up in recent weeks. But St. Paul spokesperson Mollie Scozzari said no architectural or construction plans have been approved yet. “Everything that was approved by the city on August 17 allows them to move forward with their design work,” explained Scozzari. “But no building or construction plans have been approved by the city yet. Soil boring and utility work — that can be done without city approval.”

Edited at 7:45 am.