Soccer supporters packed St. Paul City Hall Wednesday night and urged the City Council to approve $18.4 million for infrastructure improvements around the proposed Minnesota United stadium.

After extensive debate and community input, council members voted 5-2 to support the spending, and approved development and other agreements for the site. Some officials and residents expressed concerns about the fast pace of the project and future returns on the city’s investment — but the majority of council members said the opportunity was too important to pass up.

The $150 million Major League Soccer stadium is planned near Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94 in the Midway area. It would be the key piece of a larger redevelopment plan for a 34.5-acre site that includes a strip mall, parking lot and Metro Transit bus storage site.

The land would be turned into plazas and mixed-use development. It would include ground-floor retail, offices, a hotel, housing and more, according to a plan developed for RK Midway, which owns the strip mall.

Jim Oliver, president of the organization of United supporters called the Dark Clouds, said he spends a lot of time in the neighborhood.

“They’re due for that kind of investment from the city,” he said. Oliver said he travels to other cities several times a year to attend soccer games, and believes the stadium will attract visitors who will spend money at businesses and stay at hotels in the area.

Attendees at Wednesday’s meeting were excited about the modern stadium design that United owner Dr. Bill McGuire presented.

Construction of the stadium would be privately funded and the United would pay for maintenance costs, St. Paul Finance Director Todd Hurley said.

“The club’s responsibilities don’t stop within the stadium,” he said, and the soccer team also would pay to maintain amenities around the stadium including a promenade, sidewalks and green spaces.

Oliver said he thinks it is “a way to improve a neighborhood that really deserves it, and I think the city is being asked to kind of minimally support it. I think it’s a reasonable ask for the city for the development they’re going to see in that neighborhood.”

Mayor Chris Coleman’s office invited groups, including the Dark Clouds and the soccer nonprofit Joy of the People, to attend the council meeting. Many members of those and other groups showed up, several donning United FC scarves.

Immediately after the council’s vote, Coleman released a statement thanking the City Council for approving the money.

“Not only will we be able to bring the fastest growing sport in the nation to our state, but today’s agreement builds on the promise of the Green Line and ushers in new possibilities for economic growth and development throughout the Midway and the region,” Coleman said.

The stadium originally was planned for Minneapolis’s North Loop, but Coleman and St. Paul officials swooped in after Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges did not support a property tax exemption that developers requested.

At the St. Paul site, the 10-acre bus storage site owned by the Metropolitan Council has been off the tax rolls for decades. The majority of the stadium will be located on that land. Officials plan to ask the Legislature this year to continue the property tax exemption there and grant an exemption for construction materials for the stadium.

It’s a deal breaker for the team if they don’t get the tax exemptions, Hurley said.

Concerns remain

Of the city’s share of the costs, city staff anticipate $1.5 million will be covered by grants. Much of the remaining $16.9 million will be paid for using revenue from existing tax-increment financing districts in the area, staff said.

The infrastructure improvements that the city agreed to help pay for include: storm sewers, landscaping, lighting, parking, sidewalks, streets and plazas.

Council members Jane Prince and Dan Bostrom, the two dissenting votes Wednesday night, wanted the city to wait another week and conduct an independent analysis of the agreements for the stadium site. The majority of council members did not support waiting.

Prince said she was worried about the timing of the city’s ongoing transportation and parking study of the Midway area, which will not be completed until April.

“Whatever comes back in that study, we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with it,” Prince said.

Council President Russ Stark, who lives a couple of blocks from the proposed stadium site, said he would work closely on those issues to assure they are addressed.

Officials also expressed concerns that they could be on the hook for additional infrastructure costs. While Hurley said those would not be the city’s responsibility, Bostrom said he’s worried that the if infrastructure cost “goes sky high” then the city will have to figure out how to pay for it.