Is St. Paul Becoming More Logical Stadium Site For MNUFC?MLS in Minnesota depends on Minnesota United’s stadium choice
by Ray Marcham | Friday, August 28, 2015
When does Plan B for a stadium possibly end up being much better than Plan A?
If you’re Minnesota United, you may be just figuring that out.
When MUFC was announced as the latest team to be moving into MLS, it seemed like everything was in place. Stable ownership, a strong supporter base and, it seemed, an ideal stadium location on the west edge of downtown Minneapolis, not far from Target Field (home of MLB’s Twins) and the Target Center (home of the NBA’s Timberwolves). All that was missing was a final financing plan, and that seemed like only a matter of time.
How things have changed since the MLS announcement. Not only is the stadium issue still not settled, but Minneapolis may have lost the lead in landing the stadium to its twin, St. Paul.
The big financial issues that Minneapolis officials seemed to have problems with was Minnesota United’s request for a property tax exemption for the stadium and a sales tax exemption for materials used to build the stadium. While the entire cost of the stadium in Minneapolis would be privately finances, city officials are wary of the tax exemption requests, especially Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. That, along with Minnesota state legislature not considering the same tax exemptions in their session, ensured that no stadium deal was done by time MLS’ deadline of July 1 passed.
Those same issues, however, doesn’t seem to be an issue to officials in St. Paul. The St. Paul City Council passed a resolution supporting those same tax breaks on Wednesday for a possible MLS stadium in the city’s Midway area, providing that MUFC designs and builds the stadium with private funds. Mayor Chris Coleman has been openly courting MUFC to build their new stadium at the Midway site, a former Metro Transit bus maintenance complex known as the “bus barn”, on Snelling Avenue north of Interstate 94. Once the Minneapolis plan stalled, St. Paul put itself in the mix, and now just may be the best place for the Loons to build their stadium.
There are numerous reasons that Midway may be the best spot for MUFC. First, while Minneapolis has been somewhat lukewarm about adding another stadium to their collection of Target Field, the Target Center, US Bank Stadium (new home of the Vikings) and TCF Bank Stadium (University of Minnesota football), St. Paul has been aggressive in their pursuit. The city has actually been trying to convince Minnesota United to build there for the last two years, but the team hasn’t positively responded until the Minneapolis site became less feasible. In short, St. Paul wants MUFC, while Minneapolis isn’t so sure.
Also, while the Midway stadium location isn’t in a downtown location that MLS prefers (and other sports leagues, as well), it has everything a team could want. It’s next to a major interstate highway and one of the major north-south streets in St. Paul. Metro’s Green Line light rail line has a station just a block north of the stadium site at Snelling and University Avenue, and that connects the downtowns of both Minneapolis (where its western terminus is Target Field) and St. Paul. As it runs 24 hours a day, there is no worry about missing a train home. A Bus Rapid Transit line is planned for Snelling, meaning more service from the north and south of the site. The retail center just north of the stadium site would likely be remodeled to become more appealing to soccer fans and those coming for other events, and may be seen as a chance to create a complex that
There are other factors involved, as well. Brian Quarstad at Northern Pitch says that Ramsay County’s large immigrant population and St. Paul’s big college-age population is also a major factor that could make the Midway stadium work. That’s a big deal, because those are audiences that MLS wants in the stands.
Of course, St. Paul has been building stadiums of their own in recent years. They tore down the old St. Paul Civic Center at the west edge of downtown and replaced it with the Xcel Energy Center to be the home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild. Their minor league baseball team, the St. Paul Saints, just moved into a new stadium, CHS Field, east of downtown in the Lowertown neighborhood.
Are their disadvantages to the Midway site? Of course. It’s not easy to get to if one lives in the west or southwest parts of the Twin Cities area (Hennepin County). An early start could make getting there by car somewhat difficult (though light rail/BRT riders would be fine), especially if taking I-94. But those are minimal compared to the positives.
Most of all, a stadium at Midway would be as close to a neighborhood stadium as MLS would have. In a league where the newer stadiums are either in the suburbs or downtown, with no in-between, a stadium in St. Paul would be something different. The closest MLS has to that concept right now is maybe in Columbus, where MAPFRE Stadium is north of downtown at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, or in Montréal, where Stade Saputo is in Parc Olympique in the northeast of the city.
But nothing else in MLS would be in a location like a stadium at Midway. If this is where Minnesota United ends up, it just may be the best place to be for the club, even better than downtown Minneapolis. Easy access from public transit and from I-94, key demographics nearby and a city government that seems to want to work with MUFC are all major pluses for St. Paul. It’s now a question on what Minnesota United wants to do next.
Do they go with the city that wants them, or stay with the city they seem to want? The entire MLS future of the Twin Cities hangs in the balance, and if Minnesota United wants to start in 2018, the decision needs to be made soon.