Many have faced the question in circumstances from major to mundane: Minneapolis or St. Paul?
The owners of a potential new Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise have now been asked to make the choice between the Twin Cities.
Over the past week, Hennepin County Commissioners Mike Opat and Peter McLaughlin met privately with Minnesota United franchise owner Dr. Bill McGuire. The commissioners told him and other members of his ownership group that the county is ready to work on a stadium package for a new MLS team — but the county wants to be their only dance partner.
“Ultimately, they need to make a decision,” Opat said of the McGuire group. “If they’re willing to work with us, we’re willing to work with them.”
His comments came a day after St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman squired MLS officials around the eastern twin, showing off that city’s possible stadium site at Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94. Afterward, Coleman said he hoped to hear from the McGuire group in the coming week about putting together a package and a timeline.
The MLS awarded McGuire and his partners an expansion team in March, contingent on building a soccer stadium. The group has proposed spending $150 million to do so, but also wants a waiver of property taxes on the site and on construction materials. Legislative approval would be required for those tax breaks.
Opat had been close to and talking with McGuire’s group earlier this year. But discussions fell apart in late spring. Opat said he wasn’t interested in trying to persuade the 2015 Legislature to green-light a soccer stadium. Now he’s ready to do the lifting required to get soccer downtown.
“There’s time now to put something together, to be able to tell what is a good story, the whole story,” Opat said.
The commissioner, who has been joined by McLaughlin in discussions, said Hennepin County’s soccer plan would seek to snare some of the 0.15 percent countywide sales tax collected to pay for Target Field. Bonds for the baseball park, which opened in 2010, are on track to be paid off about a decade early.
Opat envisions the money being used for enhancements like streetscapes or plazas surrounding a new soccer stadium on a site near the Minneapolis Farmers Market. That’s near Target Field and the Target Field transit station. The Minnesota Ballpark Authority, which owns Target Field, would similarly own the new soccer stadium.
Like Target Field, which is operated by the Twins, Opat envisions a soccer stadium operated by the tenants. The county would have no financial responsibility in operations. The sales tax also would remain steady.
No matter which city negotiates with McGuire’s group, legislative approval would be needed for tax changes. Opat said the county’s role would be limited and include sending money to the suburbs for youth facilities — not unlike what has been done with Target Field tax revenue.
“They’re going to pay for the entire stadium,” Opat said of McGuire’s group.
Opat also is optimistic that he can persuade a majority of the seven County Board members to approve a plan.
Board Chairwoman Jan Callison deferred questions to Opat, who is the board’s point person on the soccer stadium, much as he was for Target Field. She and most other commissioners have said they would need to see a plan before deciding whether to vote for.
Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey, a soccer enthusiast, thinks the plan is getting traction, saying a “city-slash-county proposal is definitely in the cards.”
Opat, however, said he views the city only in a supportive role to the county and the McGuire group. The city’s role in building Target Field was similarly insignificant.
The site could become the sports hub of the Twin Cities, with the new Minnesota Vikings stadium a short walk or train ride away. Opat said it’s about whether McGuire’s group wants to partner with the county and make a plan to go to the board and the Legislature. “I hope the way this plays out is they call and say, ‘We think our best bet is with you guys,’ ” he said.
Late Friday, Minnesota United’s intentions remained murky. A spokesman said the group had no comment on a timeline.