March 25th 2015 is a day that will go down in soccer history in Minnesota, the day that Major League Soccer (MLS) announced that they were granting an expansion franchise to the Bill McGuire camp and the city of Minneapolis. McGuire, current owner of NASL club Minnesota United FC, the Pohlad family, owners of the Minnesota Twins, and Glenn Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, collectively made up the ownership group that beat out the Wilf family, owners of the Minnesota Vikings, in winning favor with MLS.
As has been the case in most of the recent MLS expansion proposals, the prospect of a soccer-specific stadium was crucial to the McGuire group’s winning bid. What some may not know, is that MLS placed a deadline of July 1st of this year (yesterday), to have a viable “stadium plan”, complete with financials, submitted to league HQ to show that they would be able to follow through on the promise of a soccer-specific stadium for the expansion club. The deadline was made public, however, it is a point of the process that the everyday fan probably is not aware of.
When the Minneapolis legislature adjourned for the spring session earlier this year they had not reached an agreement on whether or not to support the proposal from the McGuire group on the stadium. Knowing that the Minneapolis community would not have much of an appetite to help fund another major sports stadium after the $975 million Vikings stadium, which isn’t even finished yet, the McGuire group’s proposal offered to privately fund the stadium’s development in full, and only asked for tax breaks on construction materials, estimated at $3 million, and property taxes that have been afforded the other major sports stadiums in the area. The city’s objection is that because the stadium is to be privately funded, unlike the other stadiums in the area, these tax breaks would be given to private individuals, not establishments partially owned by the city – it’s almost a “chicken or the egg” scenario at play.
July 1st came and the McGuire group were no closer to a finalized stadium plan to be able to present back to the league. The question of “what happens now?” was answered, at least in part, by Deputy Commissioner of MLS, Mark Abbott, in an ESPN Twin Cities Radio interview on “The Ride with Reusse” show. Abbott told ESPN 1500,
As of today, we don’t yet have a stadium plan [in Minnesota] and that’s something we need in order to move forward.
Abbott told the radio show that McGuire and his team held a conference call yesterday with league officials to give an update on the situation, and expressed that though things had stalled on the Minneapolis front for the time being, Mayor Chris Coleman of neighboring St. Paul had reached out to convey the city’s interest in playing host to the potential future MLS club.
[McGuire] gave us a specific update about the interest that Mayor Coleman has expressed…We just thought it was appropriate given all the work that has been put in the market to date, that we come and learn more about that opportunity before we made a final decision.
Abbott said that no specific timeline has been put in place, but that MLS officials planned to visit St. Paul sometime in July 2015 to meet with city officials and the McGuire group to discuss what the options would be for a club in the smaller of the twin cities. It may not be the option that the league initially had in mind when they decided to grant the twin cities market an expansion club, but it isn’t necessarily one that doesn’t have legs.
St. Paul may be the smaller of the twin cities, sitting at roughly 285,000 residents, (100,000 less than it’s bigger brother) but it does already currently host one of the areas largest professional sports teams, the NHL’s Minnesota Wild – and hockey in the Minnesota market is kind of a big deal, in case you were wondering. The really nice part about the proposed location for Minneapolis was the proximity to public transportation options for fans, which is still available if the club were to be located in St. Paul with the newly constructed light rail that connects the two cities for those without cars, or other means of transit. If the club were to be located in St. Paul they would still be able to tap into the same number of potential fans in the market with very comparable public transportation options still available, just headed to a different destination.
There is the potential that the league and the ownership group are using this St. Paul visit as a tactic to put pressure on the Minneapolis city leaders to come to an agreement, but only time will tell. In all fairness, it would not be the first choice for the league, the owners, or even the fans, but a plan B is always better than no plan at all, which leaves the twin cities without an MLS club and a LOT of disgruntled soccer fans.
What do you think about the potential for Minnesota United FC playing in St. Paul instead of Minneapolis? Let us know in the comments section below