Even as Minneapolis leaders huddled Friday with team representatives looking to build a soccer stadium for their hoped-for major league franchise, internal e-mails revealed that St. Paul's interest in landing the stadium runs deeper and dates back farther than previously thought.
The e-mails, released by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's office, came as Minnesota United officials held their first large-scale formal talks with Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, several council members and top staffers at City Hall in the first meeting of the city's "stadium working group." That group formed in June to consider the proposal to build a $150 million stadium near downtown.
Attendees included owner Bill McGuire, team president Nick Rogers and attorney Sam Kaplan, a prominent Democratic fundraiser and former ambassador to Morocco whose law partner, Ralph Strangis, represents McGuire and has given stadium presentations.
In announcing a new franchise for Minnesota this March, Major League Soccer initially set a July 1 deadline for the ownership group to firm up plans with Minneapolis. When that deadline passed, league and team officials began more talks with St. Paul.
McGuire and Kaplan met earlier this week with Coleman, who as far back as two years ago proposed that McGuire consider the merits of a 34.5-acre Midway area site at Snelling and University avenues.
According to the documents released Friday, Coleman said this past April that his message in 2013 to team owners regarding a soccer stadium in St. Paul had been "hell yeah."
But, the mayor added, "They don't seem that interested in us."
He apparently no longer believes that.
While repeatedly saying that St. Paul was staying out of the stadium game so long as the owners were talking to Minneapolis leaders, Coleman has ramped up efforts in the last two months to woo McGuire and his investment group, which includes members of the Pohlad family and Glen Taylor, owner of the Star Tribune.
In pursuing a Minneapolis stadium, the team has asked the city for a property tax exemption to make the project viable, a subsidy Hodges has publicly opposed. She offered few details following Friday's meeting about what transpired, except to emphasize that it was an "exchange of information."
Hodges said the property tax issue — perhaps the biggest sticking point — largely didn't surface.
"That wasn't the conversation in there," she said. "That was an exchange of information about what the team is looking to do and … a review of what the area looks like."
Council Member Blong Yang, who represents the area and generally supports the project, said the team's financial request was "kind of like the elephant in the room."
"In some ways [the meeting] was a feeling out of Minneapolis and how committed we were to this process, and whether a deal was going to get done or not," Yang said.
More than a month before the July 1 deadline for Minneapolis, St. Paul city staffers had drawn up a list of ways the city could help the owners build a Midway-area stadium. That list included sales- and property-tax exemptions and establishing a tax-increment financing district to improve nearby parking and infrastructure.
City department heads also circulated a sample bill, provided them by the government relations team at the Messerli and Kramer law firm, that would waive property taxes and sales taxes on building materials for a soccer stadium, and limit taxes on tickets.
The draft legislation spelled out the conditions: the "sports park" would require private funding of at least $100 million, have at least 18,000 seats and create at least 1,600 construction jobs. The stadium also would have to be available annually for at least five games each by youth athletic associations and high schools.
On May 18, McGuire talked with Coleman and sent him some conceptual drawings of how a stadium might fit the Midway site. Three days later, the two met at the mayor's office along with Kaplan, St. Paul Port Authority President Louis Jambois and Planning and Economic Development Director Jonathan Sage-Martinson.
There's no record of what happened at the meeting, but on June 1 McGuire sent an e-mail to Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann saying there had been two discussions with RK Midway, which owns a large chunk of the Snelling-University site, and that a confidential disclosure agreement had been executed to share information.
McGuire said he was still waiting for more documents and price expectations from RK Midway.
"Urgency seems to be lacking on their end, but we have advised them that seeing this piece now is essential," McGuire told Beckmann. She replied that another buyer reportedly was interested in the part of the site owned by the Metropolitan Council, where buses once were stored.
Yang, meanwhile, said Friday that the St. Paul talks weren't having an impact on Minneapolis. The city isn't taking the approach that it's in competition with others, he said.
While the league's deadline has passed, Yang said another one is looming: the team's option to purchase land near the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Land owner Robert Salmen has said that option expires in late summer.
No date has been set for the Minneapolis stadium working group's next meeting, which Yang expects will be exclusive to city representatives.