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North Loop group not giving up on soccer stadium

A group of North Loop business and community leaders isn’t ready to give up on bringing a pro soccer stadium to Minneapolis despite more solid plans in St. Paul.

The group, known as 2020 Partners, is a collection of dozens of North Loop players looking for ways to generate investment in the neighborhood. At a recent meeting, group members outlined plans to meet with policymakers and stakeholders to reinvigorate interest in the project.

Nick Koch, who heads 2020 Partners, on Friday affirmed plans to proceed with the discussions.

Minneapolis real estate developer Chuck Leer agreed to spearhead the initiative. Neither he nor a representative for the broader group could be reached Monday to comment more specifically on their outreach plan, though the group has targeted Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges before.

The move comes less than a week after Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber toured a proposed stadium site in St. Paul, at a former bus maintenance facility near Snelling and University avenues and Interstate 94. He stopped short of committing to the site but confirmed the league had mothballed talks with Minneapolis officials.

Initially, team owners wanted Minnesota United FC to get a new home in Minneapolis near Target Field, on the west side of the North Loop neighborhood. An option on the site expired in August after Hodges balked at property and sales tax breaks for team ownership in exchange for them covering $120 million or more in constructions costs.

Tax relief would fall in the $3 million to $4 million range, according to city estimates.

Amid the discord, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman surfaced in July with a plan to build the stadium on the other side of the river. The effort has since drawn support from a variety of groups echoing Coleman’s case that the shuttered “bus barn” is ripe for redevelopment and a stadium would drive up developer interest in about 25 acres surrounding the site.

The St. Paul City Council and Ramsey County Board both approved nonbinding resolutions that support property tax breaks, a move Gov. Mark Dayton said he would also endorse. Such a move would require a go-ahead from lawmakers after they convene for their next session in March.

Given that lag, the 2020 Partners group says there’s room for Minneapolis to muscle its way back into contention.

“Our understanding is that until the Legislature acts, a final decision about the site is still open,” Koch, the group’s chair, said in an email.

Hennepin County Commissioners Mike Opat and Peter McLaughlin have pushed a framework that would allow team owners to build the facility then turn it over to the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, the group that operates Target Field.

Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey suggested to 2020 Partners a majority on the council would support a stadium despite the mayor’s opposition.

A working group including Minneapolis staffers, council members and Mayor Hodges is set to meet again next month after an initial informational meeting in July.

Last week, Garber said the league would continue to iron out tax and property issues with St. Paul officials in the coming weeks and months. He did not give a timetable for the process.

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