NEWS

Major League Soccer coming to Minnesota with new stadium plans not yet finalized

Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

After preserving a professional soccer team for Minnesota, Bill McGuire soon began to think bigger.

He wanted to be in the major league. The desire was mutual.

Major League Soccer formally awarded an expansion franchise Wednesday to McGuire's group of investors in Minneapolis with the expectation an outdoor stadium will be built in time for the 2018 season.

"It's hard to be anything but humbled, I think," said McGuire, his voice cracking as he addressed hundreds of grass-roots supporters and prominent local figures who attended at the celebratory event at Target Field, the home of baseball's Twins.

McGuire, a physician who became chief executive officer at UnitedHealth Group before leaving the post in 2006 amid a stock-option-backdating scandal that resulted in a $468 million settlement with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, rescued Minnesota United FC with his purchase of the financially struggling North American Soccer League franchise a little more than two years ago.

The NASL is a level below MLS, which began to eye the Twin Cities market after seeing United's success under McGuire.

"We have deep confidence in this ownership group," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.

McGuire's group was still being finalized, but already included were Bob Pohlad and Jim Pohlad of the Twins ownership family, owner Glen Taylor of the NBA's Timberwolves and Wendy Carlson Nelson, a third-generation family member of Carlson, the local hospitality and travel company that owns Radisson hotels and other brands.

"If we didn't believe that they would finalize the stadium project in time to launch their team, we wouldn't be here today," Garber said.

Garber also, however, said MLS would re-evaluate the franchise award if a plan were not finalized by July 1.

"No league can play if they don't have a stadium that they believe in. We would then as an ownership group take a step back and decide whether we wanted to come to Minnesota. We have other options around the country," Garber said.

So what about that stadium, then?

The proposed site is part of the developing North Loop neighborhood, on the west edge of downtown near a public transportation hub where two light rail lines and a suburban commuter train originate. The stadium would have natural grass with capacity around 18,500 and cost between $100 million and $200 million.

The appetite at the state capitol and among local governments for considering contributions to sports stadiums is nonexistent. Hefty subsidies in various forms have been approved over the last 15 years in Minnesota over fierce objections from politicians and citizens alike, for new venues for the NHL's Wild, the University of Minnesota football team, the Twins and the NFL's Vikings.

Gov. Mark Dayton reiterated Wednesday the broad opposition to a direct subsidy but didn't close the door on other methods of assistance. The state has not been approached with a proposal, he said. Dayton said it's possible the state transportation department or county governments would help with roads or other infrastructure improvements in the vicinity of a stadium.

"If there's another exit ramp or widening of an exit ramp necessary to accommodate the increased flow of traffic, that's something we do for project expansions all over the state," Dayton said. "And if it fits within that norm — it's premature, but — that is something in my mind that could be considered."

Sacramento, California, has also been under consideration in the league's plan to expand to 24 teams. MLS has 20 teams this season. Franchises are on their way to Atlanta and the Los Angeles area for 2017, and Miami was previously promised a team if a new stadium can be secured, but that hasn't happened yet because of site acquisition issues. Both Garber and McGuire said there would be no problems with the land in Minneapolis.

"I don't expect that anyone who is part of this community won't want to be part of a partnership of making this happen," McGuire said.

The word "partnership" was as close as McGuire came to expressing an interest in public assistance of some kind. When asked if the stadium could be built solely with private investment, he said, "Well, anything can be done, but we haven't gotten to that stage yet."

Beginning with the popular Kicks in the late 1970s, then to the Thunder and the Stars and now United, Minnesota has had several iterations of professional soccer. With growing immigrant populations and an increasing segment of 18-to-34 adults, the Twin Cities market has key MLS demographics covered.

"There are more people here driving their bicycles around than in Brooklyn, and Brooklyn is a pretty hip place," Garber said.

MLS has a 34-game schedule from early March through late October, with postseason competition in November and December, but the potential for cold did not hurt Minnesota's bid for a team.

"We are more than willing and capable to play outdoors here and schedule around the weather as we do in Montreal and as we do in Toronto and as we do in Boston," Garber said, "but there are other solutions."

Vikings owners were passed over in their attempt to land the MLS franchise. They would have to relinquish their five-year right to soccer exclusivity at the under-construction, covered stadium set to open in 2016, if the MLS team were to seek a climate-controlled site for early spring or late fall games.

 

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