Minnesota United: July Stadium Deadline Has “Wiggle Room”
As the clock winds down for this year’s Minnesota legislative session, the owners of Minnesota United FC are hopeful that state lawmakers will help clear the way for a new soccer stadium at the western edge of downtown Minneapolis.
“We’re optimistic and we’re still hopeful that we’ll be able to get it done this session,” Eric Durkee, spokesman for Minnesota United FC, told Twin Cities Business early Thursday afternoon. “I think we’re still hopeful that we’ll be able to get it done in the next couple of days here.”
Durkee declined to speak to the particulars of the latest discussions.
Legislative leaders are huddled behind closed doors with Gov. Mark Dayton to hammer out a budget deal. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Monday, May 18. The ball in play at the moment: Will the final deal include a provision that could allow an entity such as the city of Minneapolis to provide financial incentives for a new soccer stadium?
When Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber announced in March that the ownership group led by Dr. Bill McGuire had been awarded an expansion franchise for Minnesota, he floated a July deadline for the team to have a stadium deal in place.
But Durkee tells Twin Cities Business that’s not a hard and fast deadline.
“There’s definitely wiggle room there,” says Durkee, adding that the McGuire group would not lose the franchise if every stadium detail weren’t nailed down by July.
McGuire’s group has floated a plan to pay $120 million to build a new 18,500-seat stadium, pay $30 million for the necessary land, and spend $100 million for the MLS expansion fee. The stadium site is next to the Minneapolis Farmers Market. McGuire’s group is well heeled: other investors include Robert Pohlad, Jim Pohlad, Wendy Carlson Nelson and Glen Taylor. McGuire’s group has asked that the privately owned stadium be exempt from property taxes.
But amid the stadium fatigue of many political leaders, the stadium project has not found much strong political support. In April, the Minnesota Senate cast a lopsided 61-4 vote to bar any state funding from going to the proposed MLS stadium. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges is on record as opposing a tax break for the new stadium.
But Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey and other council members are working behind the scenes to broker a deal that could clear the way for a new pro soccer stadium
Frey declines to discuss specifics of the potential deal on the table, but sounded an optimistic note that the issue could be resolved.
“Any action will likely require some authorization from the state. As you know the legislative session is ending next week unless there is some extension. If a deal this year is to be done, the team needs to get something on the docket now,” Frey said. “What they’re asking for is tax relief, not a direct subsidy. …I believe there’s a mechanism where we don’t lose any money from the status quo and can trigger some economic development.”
Given that people involved in the discussions aren’t sharing details, it is not clear yet how a prospective deal would be structured. Does Frey think that the legislature will include language to clear a path for a soccer stadium deal?
“There could be. I don’t know yet,” says Frey. “That’s what we’re working out.”
Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said that a few weeks ago, he thought that he was close to working out a different deal with McGuire’s group.
“I don’t have any idea of what they’re doing. It’s been two-and-a-half weeks since I last met with them,” Opat says of the soccer group. “We were close to having an agreement on something that I would bring to my colleagues.”
Opat declined to outline that deal that was being negotiated, but said that public money would not have gone towards the stadium itself, but only for infrastructure and other costs.
Frey confirmed that at this juncture, Hennepin County is not a part of the current discussion: “At least as of right now, I think that’s accurate,” says Frey.
A representative of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges did not respond to a request for comment on where the issue currently stands.
Despite the mayor’s stance, Frey says the soccer stadium has broader support on the Minneapolis City Council.
“I think the best strategy is to keep an open negotiation,” says Frey. “I think that most council members are generally open to conversation.”