Owners of Minnesota’s new professional soccer franchise are headed to the Capitol next week to begin meeting with legislators as they seek a path to building a new stadium just outside of downtown Minneapolis.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk’s office confirmed that he will meet Tuesday with Minnesota United FC team owner Dr. Bill McGuire. A team spokesman said other private meetings with legislators will likely follow, though they don’t envision a public unveiling of their stadium plan in the immediate future.
“I think the meeting with Bakk is a good first step for us to kind of get our actual thoughts and ideas out there to him,” Minnesota United spokesman Eric Durkee said Thursday. “So they’re not just reacting to rumor and speculation of what this thing may end up looking like.”
McGuire’s group has been silent on how it would pay for the stadium near the Farmers Market, expected to cost about $150 million, and what public help — if any — would be needed. DFLers Bakk and Gov. Mark Dayton have publicly opposed state aid for the effort; Dayton also opposes a redirection of the Hennepin County’s ballpark sales tax for a stadium. But new e-mails indicate that the governor may have initially been more supportive. The Star Tribune obtained the e-mails through a public records request of Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, who aided McGuire’s effort to secure the franchise.
“I have to say I am very disappointed in the Governor,” Opat wrote on March 24, the day after Dayton reiterated his opposition. “He is now opposing what he told me he did not find a problem.”
Opat declined to elaborate on the e-mail, which was sent to Minnesota Ballpark Authority director Dan Kenney. Dayton’s office denied the governor had changed his position.
“According to two high-level members of the Governor’s staff, who participated in his call with Commissioner Opat, the Governor was clear that he opposed relying on public financing for any new stadium, but welcomed private investment,” said the governor’s spokesman, Matt Swenson.
The investment group behind the effort includes Glen Taylor, who owns the Star Tribune and Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Pohlad family, owners of the Minnesota Twins and development firm United Properties.
Kenney, a former Opat aide, responded to the e-mail about Dayton saying state leaders were reacting to a plan they hadn’t seen. “On the other hand, perhaps that’s what the league and the team needs to see in order to understand this will be difficult,” he wrote.
The legislative obstacles on the stadium were clear to Opat earlier in March, however. Major League Soccer awarded McGuire the franchise on March 25.
On March 15, Opat sent Kenney a document he authored titled “The case for waiting to seek Legislation for County Partnership with MLS Soccer.” It cited tight legislative deadlines, very preliminary designs, and an undefined “public investment package.” Additionally, he noted that the plan had no House or Senate sponsors, among other hurdles. He also stated: “City of Minneapolis support a possibility but will take time.”
Highlighting other questions regarding rezoning and environmental reviews, Kenney responded: “Launching the effort in St. Paul with open/unresolved issues will lead to more debate [and amendments] which would sidetrack the overall effort.”
Preliminary plans for the site — included in one of the e-mail exchanges — show a stadium surrounded by a “Soccer Stadium Podium Connection to 7th Street,” a “New City Gateway” roundabout at Olson Memorial Highway and 7th Street, as well as a new “Mall” just north of the existing Farmers Market sheds.
Kenney confirmed the plans were created by design firm Populous for Minnesota United. He used “X”s to cross out all three concepts in an e-mail to Opat, later explaining to the Star Tribune that the basic plans should not include features that aren’t paid for or fully vetted.
‘Conversations very difficult’
The politics of the issue looked grim at the Capitol on Thursday, less than two years after legislators endured a complex and divisive battle to pay the state’s share of the new $1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium. Bakk’s spokeswoman said he remains firmly opposed to any public subsidy.
Sen. Rod Skoe, chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee, said he was asked for a meeting related to the issue, but had a scheduling conflict. He also said he did not see a point in meeting.
“The governor said ‘no.’ The majority leader said ‘no.’ This is not going to happen this year,” said Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, indicating that stadiums are an uphill climb even when top leaders are on board.
It remains unclear if opposition extends to more indirect public aid, such as infrastructure improvements, public ownership of the facility or construction material tax breaks, for example.
Opat said he had no information Thursday about when more details about the plan might emerge. “There’s just really nothing imminent with us,” he said. “I suppose there’s still the possibility that it might be. But the scrutiny here is making having any conversations very difficult if not impossible at this point.”