Major League Soccer is coming to St. Paul.
The city’s monthslong courtship of the MLS and Minnesota United, which was awarded an MLS expansion franchise last spring, is about to be rewarded, according to an e-mail sent Thursday by St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kramer to board members.
In it, Kramer wrote that Mayor Chris Coleman and United team officials plan to announce at 1 p.m. Friday that the MLS has signed off on putting a new franchise in St. Paul and that a soccer stadium will be built at University and Snelling avenues in the city’s Midway neighborhood. The announcement is expected to be made at the Midpointe Event Center, near the future stadium site.
Kramer would not confirm the announcement when reached Thursday. But the e-mail obtained by the Star Tribune left no doubt. It read:
“I hope you have been thinking ‘GOAAAAL,’ ‘Corner Kick’ and ‘Extra Time’ because tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Bill McGuire and Mayor Coleman will be announcing that Major League Soccer is coming to Minnesota. The stadium will be built on the University and Snelling site (the Bus Barn Site) that we have been pitching and talking about for the last six months!”
The e-mail said the mayor’s office would send an advisory Friday morning in advance of the news conference.
“They specifically told me to send this e-mail in advance of their release in recognition of the work that this Chamber, with your encouragement, has been doing to get the stadium in Saint Paul,” Kramer wrote. “I was asked to emphasize that this is not public information at this point, so please keep this quiet, but watch the news wires, twitter, and soccer fans everywhere for their reaction tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. when Saint Paul reels in another big win!”
The long-anticipated announcement comes a week after the St. Paul City Council, the city’s Port Authority and the Metropolitan Council agreed to fashion a long-term lease aimed at putting a privately funded soccer stadium at the publicly held Midway site.
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.
City and team officials did not return phone calls Thursday afternoon seeking comment.
St. Paul’s hard sell
Friday’s news counts as something of a coup for St. Paul.
In March, the MLS announced that it had awarded an expansion franchise to a group led by Minnesota United owner Bill 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, which was once home to a bus storage facility and had been off the tax rolls for decades.
Coleman touted the development potential of an even larger site around what is known as the “Bus Barn” property, and pointed to what has happened around 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 and 18,000-seat stadium.
The $120 million venue would be paid for by an ownership group led by McGuire and including the Pohlad family, owners of the Minnesota Twins, and Glen Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Star Tribune.
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.
The Midway site also apparently impressed team investors with its transit-friendly location — it’s near the Green Line light-rail line that runs along University Avenue, as well as a future bus rapid transit line and Interstate 94.
The MLS deal is expected to include establishing a practice facility at the National Sports Center in Blaine, where Minnesota United currently plays in the North American Soccer League, the second tier of U.S. professional soccer.