Minnesota United FC players held a team practice outside the State Capitol on Monday, urging legislators to support bringing Major League Soccer to the state.
Amid soccer players showcasing their dribbling skills, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman made brief remarks before a team warm-up on the Minnesota Senate Building Plaza, which overlooks the Capitol. Coleman has pushed for a legislative package to help build a professional soccer stadium in the Midway neighborhood of the city, an area city leaders are eager to redevelop.
"We need to bring this home in the next couple of weeks," Coleman said.
The Minnesota United FC ownership group wants to spend $150 million to build a new 20,000-seat stadium near University and Snelling Avenues in St. Paul. Advocates for the proposal are seeking legislative approval to continue the property tax exemption for the 12-acre stadium site, which had previously served as a storage barn for Metro Transit buses. They are also seeking a sales tax exemption on construction materials and a liquor license for the new stadium.
The property tax exemption was included in a broader tax measure that is expected to be voted on by the Senate tax committee Tuesday.
Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, who authored legislation for all three requests, said she expects that bill to pass.
Pappas said she's optimistic the liquor license measure will also pass, but said the construction materials exemption will require further conversations between legislators.
"We've got three small asks … they're all crucial to make the deal work," Pappas said.
Without the proposed state assistance — which has gained bipartisan support — team owner Bill McGuire has previously said it would be difficult to build the stadium in St. Paul.
"They've been very clear [that] they need those three pieces of legislation passed," Coleman said.
Legislators are in their final two weeks of the session, which gives supporters little time to win approval of the subsidy package.
Some neighborhood groups that oppose the stadium say they are concerned about parking shortages and traffic that would result from the stadium's construction.
Advocates, like Coleman, say that they are seeking very modest taxpayer subsidies compared to what was needed to build other professional arenas, like the $1.2 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium. The soccer stadium would be the only major sports facility in recent state history built solely with private funding.
Team owners hope to have the stadium completed in time for the start of the 2018 season.
"We have an ownership that is paying for all the costs of construction, all the costs of operations and maintenance," Coleman said. "We have never seen a deal like this in the state of Minnesota."
Christopher Aadland is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.