Within minutes of Wednesday’s raucous public celebration of Major League Soccer’s move into Minnesota, the league’s commissioner said the expansion decision isn’t final until a plan for a dedicated soccer stadium is secure.
“We all know they’ve got to get a project done,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “And if not, then we’ll have to take a step back, mutually, and assess whether or not it makes sense.”
Former UnitedHealth Group head Dr. Bill McGuire and his powerful partners want to build a stadium — and perhaps much more, as they signaled this week in meetings with local groups — in an area just outside downtown, beside the Minneapolis Farmers Market. McGuire, while fully embracing the Farmers Market location Wednesday, declined to say if his group would seek a public subsidy for a stadium there.
Garber did not give the United a timeline to get its stadium plan finalized. An MLS release, however, said, “The club is working to finalize the plan for the new stadium by July 1.” McGuire told reporters he expects to release details of his plan “in the next month.”
McGuire’s investment partners include Robert and Jim Pohlad, Wendy Carlson Nelson and Glen Taylor. Carlson Nelson is on the board of the Carlson company, the travel and hospitality giant; the Pohlads own the Minnesota Twins, among other entities; and Taylor owns the Timberwolves, the Star Tribune and other ventures.
Owners of the Minnesota Vikings sought to have the franchise at their new $1 billion stadium on the other side of downtown, but Garber said McGuire’s plan better fit a model that has worked elsewhere in the country. “And that’s to have a downtown, outdoor, soccer-specific stadium, 20,000 seats, playing on grass,” he said.
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley indicated, however, that the football team may not be entirely out of the running. “We have been and continue to be in discussion — ongoing dialogue — with the MLS,” he said. “We’re monitoring and watching the situation. But we congratulate United.”
Futbol — and food?
McGuire and his representatives have quietly shopped a more detailed vision for the proposed stadium area to two groups this week. It involves not just a stadium, but a modernized Farmers Market that would feed into a unique dining facility.
“We love the Farmers Market, and we think there’s an inherent tie of the multicultural nature of that Farmers Market and soccer,” McGuire said Wednesday.
State and city leaders have already closed the door on direct public subsidies for the stadium, which is expected to cost about $150 million. Hennepin County commissioner Mike Opat, who has aided the effort to win the franchise, said those reactions have been premature.
“Some of the comments from other public officials are disappointing in that there hasn’t even been an ask yet and people are already suggesting that they’re unwilling to listen, which I think is unfortunate,” said Opat, who has had preliminary discussions about how the county could support the project.
Asked if the stadium could be privately financed, Bob Pohlad was confident.
“We didn’t come this far not to see it through,” Pohlad said. “It’s a great sport. … Bill [McGuire has] done a great job and we’ve got a great location we think we can make work.”
That would avoid the sort of troubles the league has had in Miami, where a new team has been sidelined by the lack of political interest in building a stadium.
Public help could materialize in other forms, however, including street reconfigurations or improvements to the city-owned Farmers Market. Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that he would not oppose ancillary support.
“If there’s an exit ramp or something like that, it fits within our normal, or usual projects,” Dayton said. “… I don’t rule out something like that. If Hennepin County wants to support the infrastructure with its own tax resources for improvements, I don’t rule something like that out.”
An attorney for McGuire, Ralph Strangis, nodded to some public commitment before a North Loop development group Tuesday night. “He did say all the other stadiums [in Minnesota] have been assisted in some way, be it infrastructure or direct subsidy,” said David Frank, chairman of the group known as 2020 Partners.
Some soccer stadiums have been built without taxpayer money, including the first and the last. Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes, is the league’s newest soccer-specific site. The stadium opened last month and cost $100 million. Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, was the first U.S. soccer-specific stadium, opening in 1999 at a cost of $28.5 million.
McGuire himself presented his more expansive vision for the site Monday to the board of the Central Minnesota Vegetable Growers Association, which runs the Farmers Market. Spokeswoman Sandy Hill said it included an updated Farmers Market and an indoor restaurant concept beside the stadium — similar to Eataly in Chicago.
“It still had [the Farmers Market’s] three remaining sheds, but more glorified to fit with the modernness of the whole design,” Hill said of McGuire’s description.
No man’s land
“Forgotten” and “No man’s land” were among the words used by various officials Wednesday to describe the proposed development site, which sits just west of Target Field. Royalston Avenue is a hard-to-reach corridor lined by industrial businesses. It’s flanked by two public works facilities and surrounded by freeways that cut it off from other areas.
Stadium area slideshow:
Above: A slideshow of the area around the proposed MLS stadium.
“There’s not really much of a street network,” said Frank, who is also the city’s transit-oriented development director. “It’s challenging to get in and out. And while it’s as close to downtown as you can imagine … it’s tough to get there.”
But the prospect of a Royalston Southwest light-rail stop, which would be built beside the stadium, has enticed interest in the area — part of a district some have dubbed the “West Loop.” McGuire said accessibility made it stand out among the 20 to 30 options considered.
City Council Member Blong Yang, who represents the area, is in agreement. “It’s in a place that needs development,” he said. “And if this is a spark to more development, that’s a wonderful thing.”