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Ramsey County OKs tax break for St. Paul soccer stadium

Karlee Weinmann//September 9, 2015//

Ramsey County OKs tax break for St. Paul soccer stadium

Karlee Weinmann//September 9, 2015//

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Ramsey County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to support a property tax break for a prospective pro soccer stadium in St. Paul, making them the latest governmental entity to throw their weight behind the sought-after project.

Commissioners approved a resolution that mirrors a nonbinding measure endorsed last month by the St. Paul City Council. The county board effectively relieves property taxes on a proposed stadium site, at a former bus maintenance facility near Snelling and University avenues and Interstate 94.

The owners of Minnesota United FC, the team that would play in the prospective Major League Soccer stadium, previously asked Minneapolis officials to grant a property tax exemption on their first-choice site for the facility in the North Loop neighborhood. Mayor Betsy Hodges balked, stalling talks.

Minneapolis isn’t officially out of the running – team owners, led by former UnitedHealth Group CEO Bill McGuire remain tight-lipped about stadium options – but enthusiasm in St. Paul and now from Ramsey County leaders paves a smoother path.

The owner group has said it would pay for the $120 million-plus facility in exchange for the tax relief.

Rehashing an argument made consistently by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman in his campaign to bring the facility to his city, Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said foregoing property taxes on the 10-acre stadium site isn’t a tough sell.

The property, known as the “bus barn,” hasn’t been on city or county tax rolls in more than five decades. Converting the property to a different tax-free use that would do more to stoke nearby redevelopment makes sense, she said.

“Is there a cost to us? Yes, but it’s not something that we’ve had for over 50 years,” she said. “That is a cost, but it’s not something that we have to pony up extra money for right now and I think that that is important. It’s important for the vitality of the neighborhood and the vibrancy of the economy.”

Since launching his push for a St. Paul stadium in July, Coleman has repeatedly said the facility would be a catalyst for further redevelopment in the surrounding area, in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood near the Green Line light rail route and a forthcoming bus rapid transit line.

About 25 acres around Metro Transit’s bus barn property, currently home to a shopping mall and surface parking, are ripe for redevelopment, the mayor has said. Tuesday’s resolution confirms that Ramsey County will be a willing partner to developers in the area, County Board Chairman Jim McDonough said at the meeting.

Commissioner Janice Rettman voted against the proposal, saying the soccer team’s owners don’t deserve special treatment when other business owners in the Midway area have for years footed the bill for their growth.

“I’m thinking of all of the small businesses out there that have put in their hard-earned money and they don’t get this type of break, of being tax-free,” she said. “There are numerous, numerous ones that have spent all their lives doing this.”

But stadium advocates on the board reiterated Coleman’s case on Tuesday that the increased traffic and a higher profile for the neighborhood that would come with the MLS facility would bolster those businesses and area’s overall economy.

McGuire and the league have yet to firm up and announce the Twin Cities stadium plans. Word on a deal is expected soon, after an option for the team to purchase and develop the original proposed site expired last week with no apparent movement toward a deal with Minneapolis.

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