St. Paul appears to have one chance at making professional soccer happen, with a stadium that also could bring new life to a site that has been moribund for decades and provide a catalyst to development surrounding it. The city should get that chance.
But there’s a catch: St. Paul desperately needs a functioning Legislature to pass a tax bill this year that contains critical property and sales tax breaks needed to clinch the deal. The team, Minnesota United, has already committed to the St. Paul site and is willing to pay the construction and operating costs for the $150 million stadium — far better terms than Minneapolis and the state got out of either the Vikings or Twins stadiums. In return, the team seeks sales tax breaks on construction, a property tax break and a liquor license.
It’s not hard to make the case for professional soccer in Minnesota, and not just because of growing minority populations that come from parts of the world where the sport is beloved. Nearly 17,000 Minnesota students play soccer on their school teams, and the Minnesota Soccer Association counts more than 200 adult amateur soccer teams statewide. That’s a lot of potential fans.
The Legislature has become accustomed to yearslong stadium debates involving much wooing, threatening, lobbying and repeated attempts — session after session. This one may not work that way. Businessman Bill McGuire and his group — which includes Star Tribune owner Glen Taylor — want to open the stadium in 2018. Other cities, such as Sacramento, Calif., are eager to host pro soccer and would be happy to grab Minnesota’s spot as the 24th team in a league that wants to cap its team roster at 24. That leaves little time for another attempt in 2017.
Pieces of a stadium package have been coming together. The Senate this week passed the property tax break, and the House unanimously voted for the request for a liquor license. The sales tax break is expected to be worked out in a conference committee. But serious disagreements between the DFL-controlled Senate and the GOP-ruled House could scuttle a major tax bill in a session that must wrap up in 10 days.
Legislators shouldn’t let their inability to come together on larger tax policies torpedo St. Paul’s chance at significant redevelopment for an area that badly needs it.