A group of North Loop business leaders and community members plans to renew its campaign to swing Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges in favor of a professional soccer stadium.
At its quarterly meeting Tuesday, 2020 Partners – a diverse collection of dozens of North Loop players looking for ways to stoke investment in the neighborhood – sounded off on slow-going talks to bring the facility to Minneapolis. The delay is held up in part by the mayor’s refusal to consider $3 million to $4 million in tax abatement.
The group came out in support of the Major League Soccer facility two years ago, saying it would stoke new development. Members sketched out a plan to urge Hodges to shake off political opposition to the proposed facility, which would sit northeast of the Minneapolis Farmers Market, east of Interstate 394 and west of Target Field.
Several Minneapolis City Council members, including President Barb Johnson and Jacob Frey, have thrown their weight behind the project. On Tuesday, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin joined the chorus of support, saying team owners’ pledge to pay for the $120 million facility makes it a can’t-miss opportunity.
“For this city, in terms of the straight-up ledger, it’s a pretty good deal,” McLaughlin said. “I just don’t get the position [the mayor has] taken.”
McLaughlin retraced a sales tax framework that helped the Minnesota Twins build Target Field. Tax proceeds that funnel into a pool that helps pay off bonds tied to the ballpark project are streaming in faster than expected, providing a model for another sports facility or extra cash that could support a stadium for Minnesota United FC.
So far, McLaughlin and his allies have struggled to gain traction. A July 1 deadline came and went without a firmed-up stadium plan from Minneapolis after team owners’ request for a property tax break and tax relief on construction materials stymied discussions.
Hodges said in an emailed statement Wednesday that McLaughlin’s line of thinking “may very well have merit” but the team needs to provide more detailed information – including operating costs and development plans – that give a sense of how the project could affect taxpayers.
“With any proposal, we would also need to have a full conversation about a strong community benefits package,” she said.
The city and county are still exploring their options, but even after forming a city working group to vet stadium plans, there has been little apparent movement toward a deal. Lacking support in City Hall threatens to punt the project to St. Paul or out of state, an increasingly real prospect after league officials made clear they don’t have time to waste.
“Divided on this issue doesn’t get it done,” said Ralph Strangis, a Minneapolis attorney who has represented Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire and advised the 2020 Partners group.
Strangis confirmed league officials plan to visit the Twin Cities soon to explore stadium site options and test the political appetite for the proposed facility.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said earlier this month he expects MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott to tour an alternative stadium site on the east side of the Mississippi River, at a former Metro Transit bus maintenance facility near Snelling and University avenues, by Interstate 94.
A Coleman spokesperson said this week that the visit, expected late this month or early in August, has yet to be scheduled. League and team representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Minneapolis still has an advantage, Strangis said Tuesday, because the league has already examined preliminary plans for a facility near the Farmers Market.
Team owners have been considering the 7.9-acre site, including parcels at 415 and 501 Royalston Ave. N., since last year. Two years ago, McGuire pitched a St. Paul facility, but the city’s dark-horse stadium bid only picked up steam this month.
But Coleman has said he has strong backing from other St. Paul officials – a sharp contrast to Minneapolis. For both cities, stadium prospects hinge primarily on an ability to rally the public behind a stadium and push elected officials in favor of one. A public-private partnership is vital, Strangis said.
City and county officials’ support becomes especially significant given expansive infrastructure improvements that would be needed around the proposed Minneapolis stadium site.
Existing parking structures would help accommodate fans, along with a nearby stop on the planned Southwest Light Rail Transit line. Still, the stadium property has been stagnant for decades and isn’t well-connected to downtown or other neighborhoods.