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St. Paul moves to encourage soccer stadium in the Midway

Posted on 09 September 2015 by Calvin

By JANE MCCLURE

If a Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium is built near Snelling and St. Anthony avenues the site would be exempt from property taxes. That exemption, adopted unanimously Aug. 26 by the St. Paul City Council, is in a non-binding resolution that outlines other goals for the property.

One goal is that the team owners build and operate a facility entirely with their own money. Another is that any stadium deal should involve payments to Metropolitan Council, which owns the 10-acre site. Those payments, suggested by Council President Russ Stark, would be used to support operations of the region’s transit system.

Council members Chris Tolbert and Dai Thao brought forward the resolution seeking the tax exemption for the 10-acre site. They noted that the property, which was the site of the Metro Transit bus garage or bus barn for more than 50 years, has been tax-exempt for that length of time. The resolution also states that a soccer stadium could be the needed catalyst to spur redevelopment of the bus garage site, as well as 25 adjacent acres owned by RK Midway. Much of that property is now occupied by Midway Center.

Stark said his intent in amending the resolution was to emphasise the long-awaited development of the entire Midway Center superblock. In 2011, the shopping center and adjacent land were the focus of the Snelling Station Area Plan, developed in conjunction with the Green Line light-rail service. More recently, RK Midway, City, and Metropolitan Council members, have developed a long-range plan to redevelop the site. Getting the long-awaited redevelopment in motion is another goal.

Stark amended the resolution to ask that a stadium accommodate many other uses and public events.

The amendment also asks that “a fair, sensible plan can be developed for the construction of needed public infrastructure around the site.” This infrastructure would include streets, sidewalks, bike facilities, park or public space, shared parking and storm water management. The adjacent Midway Center, bus barn property, and another vacant parcel have been eyed for various redevelopment ideas for more than three decades. But costs of infrastructure have been a hurdle.

Soccer team owner Bill McGuire has indicated that if the Midway site is chosen, the team would like additional land for offices and spinoff development. But that has raised concerns about current Midway Center tenants, who worry if they could stay. Big Top Liquors could especially be affected because of the city’s one-half mile distance requirement between off-sale liquor stores. A move could put that store out of compliance, and it could be forced to relocate.

Stark said one thing everyone can agree on is that the vacant property needs to be redeveloped. Even if a soccer stadium isn’t built there, the recent focus on the site could bring in other proposals. He called the current site conditions “unacceptable.”

The property tax exemption for the stadium would require approval from the Minnesota Legislature. There would also be federal approval, as well as Metropolitan Council approval required to sell the site, as federal dollars were used for the bus garage years ago.
City Council members said they have heard a range of comments for and against a soccer stadium and the property tax exemption. While city officials would like to see MLS soccer in St. Paul, “obviously this doesn’t guarantee anything,” said Tolbert. “There’s no deal.”

But the resolution does send a positive message about the site and its advantage sincluding proximity to I-94. and bus and rail transit.

“I know there’s a lot of fears and uncertainty about the possibility of a stadium,” said Thao. The site is in his ward. “This says what we’re willing to offer and what we’re not willing to compromise on.”

Stark, whose ward is adjacent to the site, said he too has heard support and opposition. He acknowledged that the discussions have moved very quickly and that there’s been concern about having neighborhood input. Union Park District Council (UPDC) drew a large crowd to a community input meeting this summer and is continuing to gather neighborhood feedback. This summer UPDC voted to support studies of the possible soccer stadium if development planning incorporates the entire superblock.

But the vote has drawn criticism from City Council candidates Jane Prince, David Glass and Tom Goldstein, who are running in Wards Seven, Five and Four. All have been vocal on social media against any stadium proposal. Prince posted a picture of a deteriorated East Side recreation center soccer field to make a point about the city supporting the wrong priorities.

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