A day after St. Paul’s Midway District was identified as the probable home for a new Major League Soccer team and stadium, officials on the western side of the river weren’t giving up.
“It is premature to draw any conclusions,” Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said Thursday. “These things tend to have five lives.”
Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson wasn’t rolling over, either. “Until the shovel’s in the ground, I’m hopeful,” she said.
On Wednesday, several sources with knowledge of the situation told the Star Tribune that Minnesota United team officials have chosen St. Paul for the stadium. If the site wins the approval of MLS officials, the $150 million venue, to be paid for by an ownership group led by Bill McGuire, would be built on a transit-friendly tract on Snelling Avenue between University Avenue and Interstate 94.
Opat, Johnson and others reacting Thursday said they have received no direct confirmation from the ownership group. And representatives of that group have not confirmed a shift in their preference away from putting an 18,000-seat soccer stadium on an industrial site near the Minneapolis Farmers Market.
The ownership group hoping to land the franchise includes the Pohlad family, owners of the Twins, and Glen Taylor, who owns the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Star Tribune. Their initial idea was to put a soccer stadium near Target Field and Target Center, creating a sports hub near the northern edge of downtown.
For a variety of reasons, that didn’t work out.
Chuck Leer, a Minneapolis real estate developer who has advocated for North Loop development, said the ownership group “sincerely wanted to do it in Minneapolis — then the stars didn’t align.”
Leer called the North Loop the “epicenter of activity,” saying it has several parcels that could be used for a soccer stadium. “It doesn’t make sense to me as to why they would abandon that property,” he added.
Johnson recounted the story of how the $1.1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium once appeared to be headed for Anoka County, then Ramsey County, before landing in downtown Minneapolis. She, Opat and other officials in Minneapolis and the western metro remain hopeful that the same sort of scenario plays out with the much-sought soccer stadium.
Johnson said she called McGuire earlier this week to tell him that Minneapolis is interested in trying to move forward to land the stadium.
Minneapolis City Council members Lisa Goodman and Jacob Frey also said they believe the council would support soccer in Minneapolis, but Goodman added, “What good is having the City Council say, ‘We want to do it,’ if the mayor has been so outspoken against you?”
Frey, a big soccer booster, was similarly frustrated. “I agree this ain’t over until it’s over, but the smaller twin clearly has big vision,” he said.
In April, the ownership group expressed a desire for a property tax break and an exemption from sales taxes on construction materials for the new stadium that it would build. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges batted down those options, saying they amounted to public subsidies.
On Thursday, Hodges, speaking at the State Fair, said the most important thing is that the Twin Cities get a soccer stadium, not where it goes. While she said she still believes Minneapolis is the “best place” for a stadium, she also said that the area near Target Field and the adjacent transit station will develop on its own.
As to whether the team has said it is moving on from Minneapolis, Hodges said, “We’ve had no final conversations with them.”
Hennepin County Board Chairwoman Jan Callison echoed Hodges, saying that soccer “isn’t the only opportunity” that exists for the Target Field area, and that if St. Paul gets the soccer site, “that’s good for the region.”
The board hasn’t voted on the stadium issue because there has been no proposal from the ownership group, she said.
Leer said he believes the ownership group wasn’t “accorded the respect they thought they deserved” for potentially building a private stadium in Minneapolis.
“There’s a lot of egos involved and people’s feelings got hurt,” he said. “People say, ‘That’s not really part of the process,’ but damn right it is.”
‘We’re working it’
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who also attended the State Fair Thursday, declined to provide the status of stadium talks other than to tell WCCO Radio’s John Hines that decisions will have to be made “quickly” if a stadium is to open by 2018.
“We’re working it. Nothing to announce today; we’ll have to wait on that one,” Coleman said. “We’re in discussions, and we’re continuing to say why this works and what that deal looks like.”
The St. Paul site would come with challenges, including parking.
Coleman said a city-owned ramp could be expanded and an adjacent corporate tenant could build a ramp for business use during the day and soccer fans at night. Also, he said, there are 4,000 parking spaces within six blocks of the site.
Twenty-five percent of fans now take mass transit to Twins and Vikings games, Coleman said. It’s not inconceivable that half the soccer fans attending a game at the Midway site would do so, too.
Leer, meanwhile, said he’s been reaching out around town for continued support for a Minneapolis site.
“The overwhelming sentiment I’m getting is: Let’s take a breath, step back and regroup over what will it take to get this project back to Minneapolis,” he said.