Soccer franchise leaders approach Capitol for stadium help

Former UnitedHealth Group chief executive Bill McGuire told reporters on Tuesday that the bulk of the $150 million Major League Soccer structure in Minneapolis would come from private investors.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The business group behind a new Minnesota Major League Soccer franchise made a high-level pitch Tuesday to skeptical lawmakers for a stadium financing package reliant on city, county and state tax breaks.

The Minnesota United ownership group offered details in private meetings with Gov. Mark Dayton and leaders of the Legislature. Former UnitedHealth Group chief executive Bill McGuire later told reporters that the bulk of the $150 million structure would come from private investors. The Twins’ Pohlad family and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor are also part of the ownership group.

Soccer club officials hope to get a sales tax exemption on construction materials worth $3 million or more as well as city and county property tax breaks on the proposed Minneapolis stadium site. While relying on public assistance, the proposal doesn’t appear to contain a direct, cash-on-the-table public subsidy like other recent stadium deals in Minnesota.

"We’re not asking for anything new," McGuire said, describing the breaks as "economic development tools" rather than direct subsidies. "The unique thing here is we’re putting out the money to do this."

McGuire said the rest of the cost and a $100 million franchise fee would be picked up by private investors. He said the 18,500-seat soccer park would be used for 22 to 24 pro games per year and available for amateur matches at other times.

Still, the soccer club faces lawmakers leery of stadium deals after passing them for the Twins, Vikings and University of Minnesota football team in recent years.

Dayton said he’s open to considering them.

"I haven’t committed to anything. I want to hear what the legislators have to say," Dayton said after getting an outline of the financing plan. "We’ll make that assessment when all the numbers come out."

But legislative leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, downplayed the prospects for a stadium package in the five weeks remaining in this year’s session even while describing the request as modest.

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"I don’t know what the path would be," Bakk said. "I don’t see one."

Daudt said stadium boosters would face a tough battle gathering the needed votes. "I advised them that their chances around here were not real good this session," he said. "They have a lot of work to do."

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was firmly opposed to the idea of exempting the property from city tax rolls.

"These elements constitute a public subsidy, and I do not support a public subsidy for this facility," she said in a written statement.

The Minnesota United team, which has a lower-level team in the state now, won rights to the new MLS franchise last month. But the team is scrambling to assemble a financing plan to build an open-air, natural-grass stadium in time for a team to play by 2018.

The Minnesota Vikings owners had been in competition for the franchise, with exclusive rights to host a team in the under-construction Vikings stadium. But the McGuire-led group won out.

Stadiums for the Minnesota Twins and Vikings get exemptions from property taxes, but those are publicly owned facilities. As the soccer plan is currently structured, it would be a privately owned facility.