Major League Soccer officials made good on their promise to visit a prospective stadium site in St. Paul on Tuesday as Mayor Chris Coleman continued to hype his city as a natural fit for the facility.
Before heading to the proposed site, a former bus maintenance facility by University and Snelling avenues near Interstate 94, Coleman and MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott confirmed to reporters that St. Paul was still in the running for the stadium.
Against the backdrop of CHS Field, the new St. Paul Saints ballpark that opened in Lowertown in May, Coleman continued to trumpet the upside of more sports-oriented development. Several bars and restaurants opened in the shadow of the ballpark, and similar growth would come with the soccer stadium across town, he said.
“We’re starting off at CHS Field because we wanted to give him a sense of what we’re capable of in this city,” Coleman said.
For his part, Abbott, who graduated in 1982 from Oakdale’s Tartan High School, pointed to sprawling development in St. Paul in recent years that has transformed parts of the city. Much of the development has centered on the Green Line, the light rail transit route that has a station near the proposed stadium site.
“I’m tremendously impressed with the development that’s taken place in St. Paul, including [CHS Field],” Abbott said.
Coleman’s public campaign to swing the league in favor of a St. Paul stadium only came into focus about a month ago.
Before that, the league and Minnesota United FC – the team that would play in the facility – had been focused on building a new home in Minneapolis. But despite an offer from team owners to pick up the $120 million-plus stadium tab, opposition in Minneapolis’ City Hall stymied the deal.
The owner group, led by former UnitedHealth Group CEO Bill McGuire, hinged the deal on property tax breaks and a sales tax exemption on construction materials that Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has so far shot down.
Coleman, on the other hand, said Tuesday that the tax abatement – estimated by Minneapolis officials to fall between $3 million and $4 million – was a fair trade for the development opportunities a stadium would bring.
The value spurred by redevelopment in the surrounding area would offset the property tax breaks, Coleman said. He believes legislators would buy into that case if the league settles on a Twin Cities stadium, a move that would require lawmakers’ go-ahead for tax relief.
“It seems to me a pretty simple request,” Coleman said. “I think people will understand this is the kind of sports stadium deal they’ve hoped for all along.”
Abbott isn’t planning to visit Minneapolis during his visit and said he hasn’t spoken with anyone on the west side of the Mississippi River since a July 1 deadline passed without a stadium proposal.
Minneapolis is still in play, but despite the formation of a working group to evaluate stadium options, there has been little outward movement toward a proposal.
The deputy commissioner didn’t give a timetable for talks with St. Paul, but reinforced the league is hoping for a quick turnaround.
“We’re going to evaluate as expeditiously as we can,” Abbott said.