The cat-and-mouse game over whether Minnesota gets a Major League Soccer franchise, and which set of affluent owners controls the team, is intensifying.
United Properties — owned by the Pohlad family, the owners of the Twins — is looking at sites and uses, including a soccer stadium just west of Target Field in downtown Minneapolis. Former UnitedHealth Group executive and Minnesota United FC soccer team owner Bill McGuire, who is teaming with the Pohlads and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, has also met with Bloomington’s mayor to discuss property near the Mall of America.
But the possibility that McGuire’s group can outmaneuver Vikings owner Zygi Wilf — who has a five-year exclusive window to bring an MLS team to the Vikings’ new $1 billion stadium — is running into difficulty. Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson said that with the city helping to finance the Vikings stadium, she would look unfavorably at a plan to build a separate soccer stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
“I don’t think that it would make sense for us to be looking” at that, Johnson said.
Building a new Vikings stadium and not having a professional soccer team playing there would subtract at least $340,000 annually from the stadium’s projected revenues, a figure that would increase 3 percent a year.
“We are relying on this revenue,” said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public body that is overseeing the publicly subsidized Vikings stadium.
With cities such as Sacramento, Las Vegas and San Antonio likewise competing for a franchise, the strategizing to build a separate soccer stadium in Minneapolis is continuing. But MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said this week that despite speculation that a decision to expand is near, “there is plenty of time” to make a decision, and the league has “not set a time line” for deciding.
Bloomington-based United Properties, meanwhile, said it has strong interest in parcels alongside the Minneapolis Farmers Market near Target Field with access to the proposed Southwest light-rail stop on Royalston Avenue.
One potential plan would even combine a small outdoor soccer stadium near Target Field with an anaerobic digester, a facility that would convert organic material into fuel, which could be built beneath a soccer stadium.
It is unclear whether McGuire’s group would seek a local government partner, let alone public subsidies, for the project, and Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat declined to comment on whether he has met with McGuire or his group.
Opat, who led the county’s financial partnership with the Twins to build Target Field, said he would need more details about a potential soccer stadium project before saying more. High-profile attorney Ralph Strangis, who has represented the Twins and is representing McGuire, has reportedly been hosting meetings on McGuire’s franchise bid.
A United Properties representative said “other partners might come into the conversation as things formalize” with its potential land deal.
The Vikings have downplayed for now the notion that Wilf and McGuire could eventually team up for a franchise, saying the Vikings and McGuire are not in communication. The team is instead pushing to block off at least 40,000 seats in the new Vikings stadium with a “curtaining system” that would create a smaller venue for MLS soccer.
“We’ve been direct and open about what our intentions are,” Vikings executive Lester Bagley said, adding that the Vikings had little direct knowledge of McGuire’s plans. “There’s not a discussion going on with Dr. McGuire,” he said.
The bid by Wilf, a New Jersey real estate developer, to play professional soccer games in a 65,000-seat football stadium may however be facing its own roadblocks. Only Monday, in announcing that MLS team Chivas USA would cease operating in Los Angeles, Commissioner Don Garber said the league would look for a new ownership group with a focus on “local community ties and a plan for a dedicated soccer-specific stadium.”
McGuire’s bid has likely been boosted by the Pohlad family and Taylor, though Twins President Dave St. Peter minimized the Pohlads’ role and said the family is “very supportive of all efforts aimed at growing the game of soccer in Minnesota.”
A spokesman for Taylor, who recently bought the Star Tribune, also played down the Wolves owner’s involvement and said Taylor “doesn’t plan on playing a sort of leading or prominent role” in the project.
Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said too many people were focused on the big-name “personalities” now competing for a soccer team.
But it’s clear the development community views the area between the Minneapolis Farmers Market and Target Field as underused and ready for serious activity.
“That area is going to get a major infrastructure investment with the light-rail, and it needs some major catalysts for growth,” said Scott Tankenoff, managing partner for Minneapolis-based Hillcrest Development. “And maybe this stadium is a good one if it is used for a variety of other community events — that might be very transformational.”
While the city’s ties with the Vikings stadium may be a political barrier for rival sites, there are other considerations.
“The fact that the city owns so much land down there near Royalston could be a huge benefit,” Tankenoff said. “They might be able to help shape the vision a bit better, even if it’s not a government project and is all privatized.”
At a real estate panel this month where an executive for Minnesota United FC, the Twin Cities’ second-tier pro soccer team, was on the panel discussing the sport’s future in the Twin Cities, local developers said it will take about 8 acres to build a soccer stadium.
Bob Salmen, who owns two adjacent parcels that total nearly 8 acres near Target Field, said he has had a longtime relationship with the Pohlads but last week would not comment on whether the Pohlads have an option to buy his property.
Salmen said his land could find a variety of uses — including a soccer stadium — and also suggested a stadium could be combined with an anaerobic digester. “It could work for a stadium,” he said.
Both Hennepin County and Covanta, the company that operates the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, the garbage burner alongside Target Field, said building an anaerobic digester would have merit — whether or not it was paired with a soccer stadium. Rick Rud, Covanta’s business manager for the garbage burner, said combining the environmental project with a soccer stadium “came up,” but he also said others whom he did not name were pushing it.