Soccer stadium campaign uncorked at Capitol

The campaign to win state sign-off for a professional soccer stadium has begun with the beer.

The first legislative hearing on the proposed Major League Soccer stadium revolved Wednesday around the liquor license that would be needed to sell intoxicating beverages once it opens. The building itself wouldn't be ready until 2018, if the private financing and some scattered tax breaks go through and construction can start yet this year.

Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine, and Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, appeared before the House Commerce Committee to make their liquor-license case. Their bill was given a positive reception and set aside for inclusion in a bigger liquor bill that will be considered later.

The bipartisan legislative duo and their Senate counterparts are likely to encounter more scrutiny for related proposals to make the St. Paul stadium parcel exempt from property taxes and materials used to build it free from sales taxes.

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The booze-before-the-building route wasn't lost on some members.

"I just want to understand this: We're looking at a bill to authorize a liquor license for something that doesn't exist?" asked Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston.

"That's the beauty of it, Representative Davids," Committee Chairman Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, deadpanned.

But that point was also made by stadium critic and St. Paul resident, Tom Goldstein.

"This is not ready for prime time," Goldstein said, adding, "This is part and parcel of the stadium moving forward because the appropriate due diligence hasn't happened."

Sanders, whose city hosts the Minnesota United FC now and would remain its practice home, said backers are moving on several fronts at once. Sanders said even though this stadium plan won't require a big upfront subsidy like other sports facility plans lawmakers have considered, he isn't taking anything for granted.

"I think just in general there is stadium fatigue, but I think once legislators see the proposal it is pretty solid," he said.

The full-scale stadium bill makes its debut Thursday in the Senate Taxes Committee.