Bill McGuire is upping his behind-the-scenes maneuvering for a new soccer stadium in Minneapolis in hopes of landing a Major League Soccer franchise ahead of the Minnesota Vikings ownership.
The former UnitedHealth Group executive met in mid-February with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, but was told there was "no appetite" at the State Capitol to help finance what McGuire told Bakk would be a $150 million soccer stadium with surrounding development.
The meeting between Bakk and McGuire came after Bakk phoned MLS Commissioner Don Garber to tell him that the Legislature had already addressed the professional soccer issue when it gave the owners of the Minnesota Vikings exclusive rights to try to bring an MLS franchise to the Vikings new $1 billion indoor football stadium.
The meeting with the highest-ranking DFLer in the Legislature came amid new signs that McGuire, who already owns the lower-level Minnesota United FC team, is emboldened as he privately takes the temperature of a range of public officials to help finance the project. Only last week Minnesota Twins president David St. Peter, representing the project, discussed a soccer stadium with Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson, who has already voiced concerns about building another stadium in the city.
In an interview Thursday, Bakk said he told Garber that he did not want a repeat of what MLS is facing in Miami, where the league wants to locate a team but does not have support from public officials to build a stadium. "They still haven't been able to figure out how to get the stadium built, and I don't want to put the league in that situation again in Minnesota," Bakk said.
McGuire has kept his stadium maneuvering out of the public eye, and had little comment when reached Wednesday. "I don't have anything to say about that," he said. "I'm working on other things."
But there are indications that McGuire's proposal may be finding traction.
With MLS officials having postponed a decision on expansion, and with the new Vikings stadium nearly half built, the delay has fueled speculation that MLS may be waiting to see whether McGuire can assemble the financing for a stadium.
McGuire is lobbying for a separate, outdoor soccer stadium — a design that MLS officials prefer.
Opat supports McGuire plan
McGuire's efforts to build an outdoor soccer stadium near the Twins' Target Field have also been joined by the Pohlad family, the owners of the Twins, and Glen Taylor, the owner of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves. Both teams play in stadiums that are near where McGuire is reportedly eyeing a soccer stadium.
Separately, Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, who played a lead role in the county's financing of Target Field, has supported McGuire's effort. Opat flew to New York in November when McGuire's group made a presentation to MLS officials.
Meanwhile, Bakk said that in his meeting with McGuire, he suggested to McGuire that with Taylor and the Pohlads as affluent partners the stadium could be built privately.
"I expressed very strongly to [McGuire] that there is no appetite at the Legislature for another stadium," said Bakk, a key player in bringing about the Vikings stadium.
Bakk is the latest high-ranking public official to dampen McGuire's stadium attempts. Both Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, had earlier said they would not support public subsidies for another stadium.
Bakk also was critical of any plan that would divert public money now helping to pay for Target Field — a countywide sales tax is being used — to help finance a nearby soccer stadium.
Opat said there has been no discussion of redirecting the Target Field sales tax for a soccer stadium — the bond payments are significantly ahead of schedule — and said any possible county help for McGuire's project would have to be worked out.
Even though the Vikings in December showcased drawings of how the football stadium could be refigured into a 20,000-seat soccer venue, Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team has heard little directly from MLS.
Bagley dismissed speculation that MLS may be waiting first to see whether McGuire can get an outdoor soccer stadium built in downtown Minneapolis. "I wouldn't necessarily jump to the conclusion that means one thing or another," he said of the delay.
He also reiterated that while temperatures remain in the single digits in Minneapolis, and with the MLS season beginning this week, having an indoor stadium in Minnesota might be essential.
"We've laid out, we believe, an ideal solution — a stadium that is certain and that would accommodate the length of the season in our weather," Bagley said.
In an interview in December, McGuire left open the possibility of seeking government help to build his own soccer stadium, but was vague.
"We'll see when we confirm in our own minds the wheres and whys of all of that. And depending, who knows? We haven't asked [yet for public money]. I mean, there's no formal 'ask' out there," he said.