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Judge Kevin Ross (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

St. Paul OKs soccer stadium tax breaks, with conditions

The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday approved a resolution that endorses a bid to bring a Major League Soccer stadium to town and supports a property tax exemption for the project.

Council members tacked on amendments that call for stadium use beyond professional soccer games, including by community groups, and for “strong evidence” that the project would spur development nearby as promised by Mayor Chris Coleman. They unanimously approved the amended measure.

Widespread support from the council signals the latest win in the mayor’s campaign to build the stadium on 10 acres near University and Snelling avenues, by Interstate 94, that houses a former bus maintenance facility.

City staffers for years have studied redevelopment options for the property, plus roughly 25 adjacent acres with a shopping mall and surface parking. Since July, Coleman has trumpeted the professional soccer facility as a solution that would stoke interest in other projects nearby.

“What this resolution is for, is to take a stand on what we’re willing to offer and what we’re not willing to compromise on,” said Council Member Dai Thao, whose ward covers the proposed stadium site.

The tax relief outlined in Wednesday’s resolution, spearheaded by Council Member Chris Tolbert, is likely a condition of stadium construction. Before the council vote, he said the soccer facility would buoy the city, the state and the region — a familiar rally cry among stadium advocates on both sides of the river.

Owners of Minnesota United FC, the team that would play in the facility, earlier this year asked officials in Minneapolis for similar breaks in exchange for covering $120 million or more in construction costs. The request drew criticism from Mayor Betsy Hodges, holding up talks.

League officials and team owners, led by former UnitedHealth Group CEO Bill McGuire, suggested earlier this month they hadn’t ruled out Minneapolis. Still, a smoother path in St. Paul — and pressure to finalize plans soon — could galvanize Coleman’s push.

The mayor contends a property tax exemption at the “bus barn” site is an easy sell because it’s been off the tax rolls for more than 50 years. Additional development triggered by the stadium would justify the tax tradeoff, he said.

“With today’s vote, we demonstrate strong local support and unity when it comes to making St. Paul the home of Major League Soccer in Minnesota,” Coleman said in a statement after the vote. “A soccer stadium at this location will serve as a powerful catalyst for the kind of development we want to see.”

Coleman toured his preferred stadium site earlier this month with MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott, who at the time expressed enthusiasm for wide-reaching development in St. Paul. Minnesota United President Nick Rogers said in a statement that the team is looking forward to continuing discussions over a pro soccer facility in St. Paul.

Council members emphasized they’d like to be involved as talks progress. Several on Wednesday singled out the bus barn revamp as one of the city’s showpiece redevelopment opportunities.

“Everyone wants to see something change,” Council President Russ Stark said. “It is a gateway site to that whole area of St. Paul, Midway — the whole west side of the city, really.”

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