By JANE MCCLURE
All images provided
Ground was ceremonially broken Dec. 12 for a Major League Soccer stadium south of Midway Center. Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber, Minnesota United FC lead owner Bill McGuire, youth soccer players and a team of elected officials and fans took turns wielding shovels in a raised garden bed. About 200 people turned out for the event.
Still, there are more questions than answers about the project. The quest for breaks on property taxes and construction material sales taxes returns to the Capitol for the 2017 session of the Minnesota Legislature. Approval last year stalled when Gov. Mark Dayton didn’t sign the tax bill. Other questions remain, including when construction and pollution cleanup will start in earnest. For the past few weeks, Xcel Energy has done utility work on the former Metro Transit bus garage site, removing power poles and relocating power lines underground.
Otherwise, all has been quiet. No demolition, construction or other permits have been pulled with the city. A final plat needs to be filed, and the stadium developers also need to finish work on conditions outlined in the stadium site plan approved in August by the St. Paul City Council.
McGuire, architects from the Kansas City-based Populous firm and Mortenson Construction, unveiled new stadium designs, showing more rounded lines and a lowered height for the $150 million structure. McGuire, Garber and Mayor Chris Coleman and others answered questions about the stadium. The event was timed a day before an expansion draft event, to add players to Minnesota United and a new team in Atlanta. McGuire also said it was a chance to show stadium design changes, promote season ticket sales and build excitement for the club.
Coleman said that he couldn’t think of a more appropriate stadium site, given the area’s economic diversity. He drew cheers when he suggested a future championship game on a cold day.
Garber quipped that Minnesota United had set a league record. “I can assure you, this will be our coldest groundbreaking,” he said.
Team officials had hoped to break ground in late spring or early summer of last year. However, to build the stadium and public plaza desired in the project’s first phase, the soccer club needs to acquire about two acres of Midway Center property, including Rainbow Foods and storefronts up to Walgreens.
Rainbow’s owner, Supervalu, leases the store from shopping center owner RK Midway. Negotiations between those parties are ongoing. When asked about the negotiations, McGuire and others involved in the project said the Dec. 12 event was about the stadium, not the negotiations nor the proposal to extensively redevelop the Midway Center property with office towers, retail, hotels, and apartments.
McGuire added that everything would be resolved at some point.
There are two property owners on the 34.5 acre Midway Center superblock, which is bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. RK Midway owns the northern part of the block, as well as a vacant lot at the northwest corner of Pascal and St. Anthony. Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit own the 10 acres at the northeast corner of St. Anthony and Snelling avenues, where a streetcar facility and later a bus garage stood for many years.
Minnesota United will play the 2017 season and at least part of the 2018 season at TCF Bank Stadium. The team has looked into using US Bank Stadium for larger events. Officials didn’t announce a firm opening date for the St. Paul Stadium.
Ken Sorensen, a senior vice president with Mortenson Construction, told reporters that construction would begin in spring 2017, with the idea of moving south to north. Work is ongoing with subcontractors and with the club on construction details. Sorensen estimated it would take one and one-half years to build the facility. The ongoing negotiations over the Midway Center property had McGuire unable to say specifically when the new stadium would be ready, so a 2019 start in St. Paul is not out of the question.
McGuire said the team owners could orient a stadium east-west instead to north-south, to keep it on the bus garage property, and has looked at some options, but would prefer the north-south orientation.
Another wrinkle was a property tax break approved by the 2016 Minnesota Legislature. Dayton didn’t sign the tax bill, citing a potentially costly scrivener’s error. McGuire said Minnesota United is confident the tax break could be approved in 2017.
The soccer team was able to get a liquor license approved by state lawmakers during the 2016 session. The City Council gave its assent to that license in December.
The stadium plans have changed (image left). It is four more feet lower than originally announced, with peak canopy height now at 78 feet. McGuire said that is meant to have the structure be less overwhelming. Sinking the stadium 18 feet into the ground (image below) also means fewer, if any steps needed to enter.
The stadium will be 650 feet long. It will be 346,000 square feet in size. Its total capacity will be 19,916 fans, with the future expansion capacity to 24,474.
Twenty-five suites, 38 “loge boxes” or semi-private areas and four club rooms are also featured. A restaurant at the stadium’s north end could be open for patrons year-round. Design is about 70 percent complete.
The stadium will still be bowl-shaped, but the new design is more rounded and less boxy. The roof design has also been reconfigured. It will be open to natural light over the turf field, but about 84 percent of fans will sit under a partial roof covering. The roof has been expanded at the south end and cut back in the north, with a slightly lower profile visible from University Ave.
The stadium will be wrapped in a synthetic mesh or skin, embedded with LED lights to allow for color changes. Other features included improved access for people with disabilities
Starting in 2017, Minnesota United will play as a top-tier team in the league, which has 22 teams. The team was granted an MLS expansion franchise in 2015. This year, Minnesota United played in the Division II North America Soccer League.
Fans and business leaders applauded the groundbreaking. Midway Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chad Kulas said business leaders are excited to see the new plans and hear project details. “There’s a lot of excitement about this project and what it could mean for the community,” Kulas said.
Kulas also said the chamber is sensitive to concerns about traffic and parking and will stay engaged as plans unfold.
Fan clubs represented at the event, wearing Minnesota United Loon scarves, were also pleased. More than three dozen fans marched to the groundbreaking ceremony, chanting and waving team flags. Merriam Park resident and True North Elite member Philip Cross said he was pleased to see more stadium details emerge. “It’s exciting to see more detailed plans and to see the stadium move forward,” he said. “I’ve lived in the area for 12 years and bike through every day. It will be great to see the transformation of what used to be the bus graveyard.”
True North Elite is a smaller club, “but we chant louder and we chant longer,” Cross said.
Most people at the event were supportive of the plans.
Mayoral candidate Tom Goldstein gave media his written statement to call for more human-scale amenities, more attention to business development, and to children’s and youth’s recreation and after-school needs. He also criticized the city’s commitment to fund $18 million in site work.