The battle to build a soccer specific stadium for Minnesota United FC’s MLS promotion is opening up a new, familiar front: Saint Paul.
In March, Major League Soccer announced their intention to grant the Loons (Minnesota United’s nickname) an expansion franchise, contingent on a deal to build a downtown Minneapolis soccer stadium. The site targeted by owner Bill McGuire and his team of wealthy local investors is in the western edge of the North Loop district, a light industrial pocket of downtown perfect for stadium construction and further development. McGuire’s group promised to pay for the stadium with private funds, only asking for the same type of tax relief provided to the state’s herd of other sports facilities.
But the one thing the MLS investors couldn’t find, it seemed, was political support. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges balked at subsidizing another stadium to any extent, and the stadium proposal stood virtually no chance in a legislature that had difficulty finding common ground on core issues like transportation and infrastructure funding.
The result was that the legislative session came and went without any kind of agreement on a soccer stadium, while Minnesota United and the City of Minneapolis continue to negotiate terms.
With stadium boondoggles already in full swing in Miami and New York, MLS has had little patience for the sluggish progress in Minnesota, and increasingly hardened a July 1st deadline to see progress on the stadium deal. While few veteran MLS watchers ever believed that date to be anything more than symbolic, it remained to be seen what inflection the debate would take after the league had their say.
On that Wednesday, MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott appeared on ESPN 1500 with Patrick Reusse, and made it clear that the league would become more directly involved. He promised to fly out to the Twin Cities in the coming weeks, and floated the idea of an alternate site in Saint Paul.
To Minnesotans experienced with stadium wars, the gambit to move the stadium location is far from original. But the two sites often mentioned in the state’s capital are more than threats to gain leverage—they are actually compelling locations. The “Bus Barn” site along Snelling Avenue between I94 and University, and the site at the current Sears department store near the capitol mall, are both well connected to roads and transit, urban, and have high redevelopment potential. While Minneapolis suffers from “stadium fatigue,” Saint Paul is tipsy with stadium fever, thanks to the buzz surrounding Lowertown’s immaculate CHS Field.
MLS wants to come to Minnesota, and the opportunity is now for the league and for Minnesota United FC. There is every incentive for the league and the team to get a stadium deal done, the challenge is to find the right terms and a willing partner. By opening up the possibilities for stadium locations, MLS and Minnesota United might finally find the terms they were looking for and a great stadium location thanks to our century-old civic rivalry.
See below for the full statement from Minnesota United FC.
— Minnesota United FC (@MNUnitedFC) July 1, 2015