The Ramsey County Board on Tuesday joined the city of St. Paul in supporting a property tax exemption for a 10-acre Midway area tract, should a big league soccer stadium be built there with private funds.
The board approved, on a 5-2 vote, a resolution supporting a Major League Soccer stadium at the Midway site, the former home of Metro Transit's bus barn at the intersection of Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94.
Last week, sources close to the deal said that the owners of the Minnesota United franchise had chosen the site as their preferred location for their 18,500-seat stadium and forwarded it to the MLS for approval.
An announcement is expected in the near future, perhaps as soon as this week.
Ramsey County's resolution says a stadium would be a catalyst for eventual redevelopment of the adjacent Midway Shopping Center area, which it says would increase the county and city's tax bases.
It also points out that the site, owned for decades by the Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit, has been tax exempt for more than 50 years anyway.
"I think the benefits of getting … increased property taxes from thriving businesses is just going to be phenomenal," said Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt.
Additional tax revenue generated by surrounding development would more than offset what the county and city lose from granting the property tax exemption, she said.
While 25 acres to the north and east of the proposed stadium site is privately owned by RK Midway and partly occupied by the Midway Shopping Center, it is widely considered underdeveloped and due for new investment.
A 2014 study, commissioned by the city and the property owners, spells out a strategy to design and develop an urban village on the site of housing and commercial development for the "super block."
But it also argues that infrastructure costs would outstrip the site's property value, making it risky for developers to take on without public investment.
That's why policymakers are intrigued by the notion that Minnesota United isn't asking for public funds to build the $150 million stadium or operate it. "That hasn't happened before," Board Chair Jim McDonough said.
But Commissioner Janice Rettman, who with Commissioner Blake Huffman opposed the resolution, said that most small business owners don't get a tax break. She called the Midway shopping district "the economic engine of St. Paul."
"This exemption is far into the future, and when we have 30 percent [of property] already off the tax rolls … we have to have taxes," Rettman said.
Huffman said after the meeting that he opposed the tax break partly because he's not convinced a stadium is the best use for the property, and partly because his constituents are tired of government helping to build stadiums.
"What Ramsey County needs is more good-paying jobs and expansion of our tax base," Huffman said. "Although this has some potential to do that, will there be an economic boom around it? I hope so, but I'm just not certain that because we hope for that, it will be there."