The voices booming off the walls of the packed ballroom at the Midpointe Event Center in St. Paul on Friday said it all.
“We love United, we do … United we love you!” supporters of the Minnesota United soccer team shouted as city and team leaders officially announced a not-so-well-kept secret: St. Paul will be the new home for the Major League Soccer-bound team, which has committed to playing in an 18,000-seat stadium to be built near Snelling and University avenues in the city’s Midway area.
“I’m a huge fan of this site,” said Nicholas Bisbee, a Minneapolis resident and team supporter who plans to take the nearby Green Line light rail to games. “I so wanted it to be in the urban area.”
Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman made the announcement at a 1 p.m. news conference after months of courtship. Project supporters are hoping the stadium will act as a catalyst to transform a long-dormant site and its underdeveloped neighborhood.
The team, currently a member of the North American Soccer League, will transform from a lower-tier squad into a franchise in the country’s top professional league. The team’s ownership group — which includes the Pohlad family, owners of the Minnesota Twins, and Glen Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Star Tribune — said it will spend about $120 million to build a stadium on a site that once housed a bus depot.
‘The world’s game’
McGuire said the team hopes to break ground in late May or early June of 2016 and begin league play in 2017 — pending MLS approval. Because the stadium would not be completed until 2018, Minnesota United would probably need to play somewhere else during the 2017 season.
“This is a very exciting opportunity to bring the world’s game to the state of Minnesota,” Coleman said to cheers from about 50 team supporters who turned out at the Midpointe Event Center with banners and scarves to celebrate the news. “I will guarantee you there will be no better place for soccer than the Twin Cities [and] on this site.”
While Minnesota United is paying to build the stadium, which will be on land owned by the Metropolitan Council and leased to the team, team officials will seek property tax relief from the state Legislature next spring. City and team officials have expressed confidence in legislative approval.
“We want the tax to be what the tax has always been [at the site],” McGuire said of the 10-acre lot that has been off the tax rolls for more than 50 years.
McGuire called the larger 34.5-acre site — bounded by Interstate 94, Snelling and University avenues — a “super block” that is centrally located between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis. It may be supersized but, until now, it hasn’t appealed to developers. The stadium’s 10 acres are at the southwest corner; the remaining 25 acres are occupied by the Midway Shopping Center, owned by a New York-based landlord, RD Management.
Friday’s announcement came a day after St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kramer sent an e-mail to board members alerting them to the news and a week after the St. Paul City Council, the city’s Port Authority and the Metropolitan Council agreed to fashion a long-term lease. The joint powers agreement made official the parties’ negotiations and sent a message to team owners and the MLS that St. Paul was serious about its bid.
The job ahead
The announcement also sets in motion what is expected to be a monthslong process to choose architects and develop designs, perform environmental testing and select a general contractor. Just as important will be what happens in the immediate area around the stadium site. In making his pitch for Midway, Coleman sold team and league officials on the development potential of the surrounding area.
“Everything is on the table,” said Roger Hirschhorn, senior vice president for RD Management. “We are very excited about the stadium happening and we want to do whatever we can to support it.”
RD Management has enlisted United Properties — a Bloomington-based real estate company owned by the Pohlads — to explore redevelopment of the 25-acre parcel, now anchored by a Rainbow Foods and Office Max. While United Properties is not officially a part of the stadium project, “there’s a high degree of comfort between the team, the [Pohlad] family, RD Management and United Properties,” said Bill Katter, president and chief investment officer of United Properties.
It’s premature to outline specific redevelopment ideas, he said, but RD and United Properties will likely announce a master plan in the next three to six months. Katter anticipates the soccer stadium spurring high-density development similar to what happened around Target Field, with both office and retail components.
But, he said, “this isn’t exactly the North Loop in Minneapolis. This is a tougher area, and we as a developer need to still make sure the area is ripe for redevelopment.”
A task force on the redevelopment of the Midway Shopping Center is set to begin meeting in December, and representatives of several area businesses expressed a desire to have a voice in development plans. On Friday, officials with the Midway Chamber of Commerce said they are encouraging members to apply for a seat on the 15- to 20-person committee.
Marcy McHenry, owner of the Midpointe Event Center, said, “I want a seat at the table,” adding that she wants a place for her business in any new development.
Mary Lau, who owns the Peking Garden restaurant nearby, was less enthused, and had hoped that Minneapolis would get the stadium.
“I moved once before to make way for a stadium,” she said of her relocation in 2006 from the neighborhood where TCF Bank Stadium was built on the University of Minnesota campus. “I don’t want to do it again.”
Said Eric Molho of the Union Park District Council, “A lot of people are excited about redevelopment of the site. But there are a lot of issues that are unknown: impacts on traffic and parking and use of the site long-term.”
Months of efforts
Until now, most of the work to get the stadium in St. Paul has been behind the scenes.
In March, the MLS announced that it had awarded an expansion franchise to a group led by McGuire, and talks immediately centered on putting the team in Minneapolis, with a potential stadium to be built near the Minneapolis Farmers Market and Target Field.
But after a July 1 deadline for a stadium plan with Minneapolis came and went, Coleman started to aggressively sell McGuire and MLS officials on the Midway site.
Coleman pointed to the new CHS Field, home of baseball’s St. Paul Saints in the Lowertown neighborhood, as proof that a stadium could spur broader development. In fact, McGuire had inquired about the Midway site and surrounding property in 2013.
Early last month, sources close to the deal said that the Midway site had become the choice of Minnesota United officials as home for a new MLS team. The St. Paul City Council had already approved a resolution backing a property tax exemption for the site if a privately built stadium went up there, and a short time later, Gov. Mark Dayton said he would support legislative action to enact the tax break.
But even members of the St. Paul City Council continued to harbor doubts, with some wondering if Minneapolis could still become the team’s eventual choice for a home. No longer, said Dai Thao, who represents the ward where the stadium will be built.
“What we have before us is an opportunity that will define the history of the region,” he beamed.
Staff writers Nicole Norfleet and Kristen Painter contributed to this report.