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St. Paul mayor pushes potential site for MLS stadium

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on Thursday invited Major League Soccer officials to tour the city and survey a potential stadium site at Snelling and University avenues.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on Thursday invited Major League Soccer officials to tour the city and survey a potential stadium site at Snelling and University avenues.

In a written statement, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he reached out to MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott on Wednesday, "Inviting him to visit St. Paul, experience the city and tour a tract of land at Snelling and University."

The land includes two mostly vacant, adjoining properties spanning 14.7 acres off Pascal Avenue, south of University Avenue and north of Interstate 94.

Major League Soccer awarded an expansion franchise to Minnesota United FC in March, but the top-tier professional soccer league set a July 1 deadline for the team to solidify funding for a $150 million stadium near Target Field in downtown Minneapolis.

That deadline passed without a plan and MLS turned its focus to St. Paul.

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"With the MLS deadline passing, there is a small window of opportunity to make sure Minnesota has a Major League Soccer team," Coleman said in a news release Thursday.

The Metropolitan Council owns a 10-acre parcel that formerly housed its "bus barn," and the adjoining parcel is owned by shopping mall developer R.K. Midway.

The Met Council and the city of St. Paul, together with the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, have been studying and promoting the sites to the development community together since 2012. The goal is to create a walkable urban village near Metro Transit’s Green Line light rail corridor and bus routes.

The Met Council’s planners found a $30 million gap between what the private sector was willing to contribute and the cost of making that vision a reality.

In May, United FC’s ownership group presented to the State Legilsature a financing plan that included breaks on property and sales tax. Despite the fact that United will pay about $250 million for the stadium, including a $100 MLS expansion fee, the plan fell with a thud.

Citing "stadium fatigue" after long battles that resulted in public money for Twins and Vikings stadiums, lawmakers expressed virtually no interest in helping MLS and United build their outdoor, soccer-only stadium.

The Minneapolis City Council established a working group to look at the impacts of property and sales taxes associated with a stadium and plans to present its findings in September. But St. Paul sees an opening to attract another major league sports franchise, joining the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.

"The enthusiasm around the USA winning the Women’s World Cup demonstrates that there is growing support for soccer," Coleman’s statement reads. "The St. Paul site is the only viable path at this point. Not only would a stadium at this location take advantage of all modes of transportation, but it would substantially accelerate redevelopment in the area."

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Coleman already has had two informal meetings with representatives of the group pushing the stadium proposal, including Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire, a former executive with United HealthGroup.

The mayor said McGuire broached the idea of a soccer stadium anchoring a new development at the site in 2013.

The recent conversations "have remained at a very high level and no specific deal has been discussed," according to Coleman’s statement.

St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kramer said in the statement that the site is accessible from the downtowns of both St. Paul and Minneapolis via the Green Line, and "a soccer stadium would anchor a complete transformation of this site into one that includes retail, housing and green space."

Andy Greder contributed to this report.

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