Minnesota United owner Dr. Bill McGuire looked at 30 sites for a soccer stadium before settling on three that met his criteria of accessibility, public transit and development opportunities, he said Friday.
And although he didn't specify the Midway bus barn site in St. Paul, said to be his final choice, McGuire told a group of community leaders at a luncheon that they "will like" the kind of potential development being discussed in conjunction with construction of the 18,500-seat stadium.
"Somebody who has the capacity to make something happen, because they own properties and stuff, are saying 'If you do this, we will do this,' for the first time. That is occurring," he said, careful not to say too much.
McGuire, former chief executive at UnitedHealth Group, also addressed health care reform at the regular weekly gathering of active and retired movers and shakers. But with recent headlines pointing to an imminent victory for St. Paul in the stadium sweepstakes, most of the talk and the questions centered on soccer.
After buying the minor league Minnesota Stars soccer team in November 2012, McGuire said he began thinking about moving the team out of Blaine, a tough place to reach without a car.
"One of the places we actually looked … was the so-called bus barn site" at Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94, he said. The vacant 10-acre site is owned by the Metropolitan Council and was once used to store buses. But after months of discussions, nothing happened and the team backed off, he said.
The hunt for a stadium site resumed this spring after Major League Soccer awarded a franchise to McGuire and his investors, including the Pohlad family, owners of the Twins, and Glen Taylor, who owns the Timberwolves and the Star Tribune.
Location is critical, McGuire said, because soccer team failures in the past sometimes were the result of hard-to-reach stadiums that failed to draw enough fans. Tickets are a big source of revenue for professional soccer, which generates limited commercial revenue since there are no game breaks aside from halftime.
The group settled on three finalists, McGuire said: the bus barn site, an area adjacent to the Mall of America in Bloomington and a site near the Farmers Market in Minneapolis' North Loop.
The group announced it would build its own $150 million stadium at the latter location, provided that Minneapolis obtained property and sales tax breaks.
But a July 1 deadline for a Minneapolis stadium plan came and went without any movement. Since then St. Paul leaders have pledged the requested tax breaks for the Midway site, and sources say that investors now are offering that site to the league.
Rick Birdoff, who oversees RK Midway, owner of most of the property surrounding the bus barn site, "is excited, frankly, about something actually occurring that can be a catalyst" for redevelopment, McGuire said.
"I can also tell you that if that's where we end up, that's what we would expect … community development," he said.