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St. Paul seeks input for soccer stadium site

A committee of up to 20 St. Paul community members will help steer redevelopment decisions at the site of a proposed Major League Soccer stadium.

The move, announced late Tuesday, came as the St. Paul City Council, Metropolitan Council and St. Paul Port Authority weigh a joint powers agreement – essentially, a framework for stadium negotiations. The Port Authority signed off on Wednesday morning, and the other bodies adopted the document in the afternoon.

A stadium, slated to replace a bus maintenance garage near Snelling and University avenues, would be privately financed by Minnesota United FC team owners but publicly owned, according to the document.

In the three months since Mayor Chris Coleman fired up his campaign to bring the stadium to St. Paul, he has faced community groups’ calls for more transparency and citizen engagement – particularly as talks with the league and team owners intensified over the past month or so.

Between 15 and 20 people will sit on the committee, to be formed next month. Starting in December, they’ll discuss design and development at the stadium site, which includes the 10-acre “bus barn” plus another 24.5 acres – currently home to surface parking and a shopping mall – that the city says are ripe for a change.

The Midway area, where the facility would sit, has for years been a redevelopment priority in St. Paul. The Green Line light rail route runs adjacent to the proposed stadium site, and over the past few years has driven up residential and commercial development along the corridor.

Coleman predicts the stadium would open new project possibilities in the neighborhood. On Tuesday, he said gathering public input through redevelopment is essential.

“With momentum clearly building for a potential soccer stadium at the Midway location, it’s critical that we ensure diverse community voices are in place to guide the process,” he said in a statement.

Even if that stadium doesn’t materialize, the spotlight it put on the Midway site will likely help drive up developer interest. The committee will provide a solid link between city staff and community members as they weigh development options – whatever they might be.

“Should the team and MLS want to build a stadium in St. Paul, the City Council and mayor will need to make many decisions along the way – and we want this committee in place so we can thoroughly engage the community throughout this process,” City Council President Russ Stark said.

Stark noted community input would factor into the city’s process with or without the stadium in play.

The joint powers agreement reviewed by the City Council and other groups this week reaffirmed development priorities for the proposed stadium site. In line with the city’s previous plans, the document stipulates any changes to the 34.5-acre area should prop up transit and make good use of private investment.

Under the framework, St. Paul would drive development plans and ultimately own the stadium, while the Met Council would retain the 10-acre stadium site and lease it to the city. The Port Authority would act as an agent for the city in development talks with the Met Council.

Land surrounding the bus barn is owned by RK Midway LLC, which has been part of redevelopment conversations with the city in recent years. Coleman has said the group is open to the stadium plan.

Former UnitedHealth Group CEO Bill McGuire, who leads Minnesota United’s ownership group, sniffed out the bus barn site as a prospective stadium location as far back as 2013. Earlier this year, he shifted his focus across the river, but preliminary plans to build a facility near the Minneapolis Farmers Market fizzled.

In an initial proposal, McGuire’s group agreed to cover $120 million-plus in construction costs if the city would promise property tax breaks on the site and sales tax relief on materials. The request, worth an estimated $3 million to $4 million, drew sharp criticism from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges that derailed talks.

Tension in Minneapolis gave Coleman a platform to pitch the bus barn site. Both the St. Paul City Council and Ramsey County approved nonbinding resolutions that support property tax breaks for McGuire, saying gains made through redevelopment would more than offset tax abatement.

Don Garber, who heads MLS, said last month that property and tax specifics still need to be worked out but he planned to meet with McGuire regularly until the league makes a decision on the St. Paul site.

Representatives for the league and McGuire could not immediately be reached for comment.

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