Midway stadium developers keep ball rolling, aim for major construction in spring

Rendering of new soccer stadium
This rendering shows the inside of the upcoming MLS soccer stadium in St. Paul.
Submitted image

Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire says preliminary work on the team's new soccer stadium is underway.

Three weeks ago, utility crews began moving electrical lines at the site. McGuire said major construction will begin in the spring, even though developers still don't have full control of the site, and they're awaiting a key property tax break from the state amid a legislative power shift.

More than a year ago, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and McGuire announced the team's stadium would be built largely on the publicly-owned site of an old bus garage near Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94.

With the temperature hovering around 7 degrees, the two joined other team officials and a half dozen schoolchildren Monday to toss shovels of ceremonial dirt out of a wooden box.

McGuire told reporters that the 20,000-seat, $150 million venue is still on track to open in 2018, though he still wouldn't say exactly when.

McGuire still does not have the go-ahead to build on the entire site. That's because a Rainbow grocery store sits within the stadium's proposed footprint and McGuire has yet to finalize a deal with property owner RK Midway.

From the beginning, renderings of the stadium showed it oriented north to south. Asked if he'd rotate the footprint 90 degrees to avoid the neighboring grocery store, McGuire said he's open to the idea.

"We've looked at a number of options. That's certainly a possibility. That's not preferred," McGuire said.

McGuire is counting on a property tax exemption from the state. Lawmakers approved the break early this year as part of a bipartisan tax package. But Gov. Mark Dayton declined to sign the bill because of an unrelated $101 million error involving bingo halls. Nevertheless, McGuire says he's confident legislators will come through next year.

"It was very strong bipartisan support. It's a logical step. It's just a continuation of the current status of the site," McGuire said. "So we take them on good faith, and if we want this to get done and completed and be up and going we need to move forward, and we're moving forward."

But since lawmakers first struck that deal, things have changed at the Minnesota legislature. Republicans strengthened their majority in the House and narrowly took control of the Senate. Republican Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes will chair the Senate's powerful tax committee when lawmakers reconvene Jan. 3.

Minnesota United stadium rendering02
A rendering of the Minnesota United soccer stadium.
Courtesy of Minnesota United FC

Chamberlain acknowledged the soccer stadium deal wasn't a major point of controversy in the last session. But at the same time he would not guarantee that it'll stay in next year's tax legislation.

"It won't be 2016. But there will be some good things that'll be carried forward from 2016 into the new tax bill. And we'll set our priorities. We want to avoid any problems that we can avoid," Chamberlain said.

McGuire wouldn't say much about the politics of the tax break. But he did reveal some new design elements. The field will be 18 feet below ground, the canopy will cover a larger portion of the seating area, and the entire building will be lowered 4 feet, eliminating the need for steps at the entrance.

As for property under and around the mostly privately-funded development, the city of St. Paul is kicking in about $18 million in improvements to sewers, sidewalks, streets and more.

Former St. Paul school board member and current mayoral candidate Tom Goldstein has long opposed the project. He points out that the City Council recently approved a nearly 8 percent increase in the maximum property tax levy.

"If we don't have the money for basic city services, we don't have the money to do infrastructure about a soccer stadium," Goldstein said. "But somehow we always find the money for these big-ticket projects that are primarily the beneficiary of millionaire and billionaire team owners."

Even with uncertainties about building its stadium, Minnesota United is moving forward with building up its roster of players with Tuesday's Major League Soccer expansion draft. The team will play at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium in 2017 and 2018.