In Woodbury, pro sports and local government won’t mix

Minnesota United players conducted a soccer clinic when Bielenberg Sports Center opened in Woodbury in 2014. The team has pulled out of a deal with the city, but will continue to provide clinics. Photo: Bielenberg Facebook page.

Woodbury, which owns the sprawling Bielenberg sports complex, has lost two of the three partners it intended to help pay for a massive 90,000 foot field house which was completed last fall at a cost of nearly $22 million.

Minnesota United, the Blaine-based soccer club, approached the city as construction was about to get underway with the idea of making it the training home of the team.

The city, anxious to tap into the cachet of professional sports for its destination venue, went all in on the replacement for the original Bielenberg complex, built around 1995 for $6 million, altering the design in exchange for $1 million from the team, and signing a deal with a Stillwater restaurant group to open a 200-seat upscale restaurant in the dining-out challenged city. Now, both of those partners are gone.

The restaurant idea collapsed last summer after the city filed suit against the company left the city holding the bill for the cost of the building the restaurant space. The space is now vacant.

The soccer team told the city in the fall it will now stay at its current facility in Blaine, the Woodbury Bulletin reports, leaving the facility with extra space that was built for the team. That’s 5,600 square feet, offices, showers, and locker room facilities the team said it needed when it approached the city. The team paid for exterior work on the new building. A marketing agreement between the two remains in effect.

The team also committed to finishing the interior at its expense. That’s the agreement that the team has walked away from, according to the Bulletin.

“We have absolute confidence we’re going to find the right use for that area,” city administrator Clint Gridley said. “There’s no shortage of options for us. We’re going to be working with the city council in 2015 to figure that out.”

What’s behind the team’s move? Team boss Nick Rogers wouldn’t say specifically, according to the Bulletin. “It became apparent the needs of both parties would not be sufficiently met,” he said.

The team is one of two organizations — the Minnesota Vikings’ owners are the other — vying for a Major League Soccer franchise with new facilities in downtown Minneapolis.

Archive: Taxpayer-funded stadium? Soccer booster won’t say ‘no’ .

There’s something about Woodbury. But what?

  • BJ

    The space was supposed to be completed almost a year ago, April 2014, perhaps the pro sports team actually wanted to use it. Had construction been done the team’s second, and finial, construction payment would already be made. Walking away from a deal that was already broken by the city seems like something any business would do. The reastraunt had none to many good things to say about the city when they pulled out after a delay of 4 months.

    President of team not commenting might have more to do with not burning his side of bridge with the city.

    The team even did a huge open house last fall, but without the facility complete and preseason about to start they had to make other plans.

    • B ielenberg started off as a nice little facility for the locals. Now it’s a massive facility that has left local neighborhood parks vacant.

      For some reason, it’s always seemed the city has had stars in its eyes.

      A good lesson. Stick to being something for the people of Woodbury.

      I’m not really sure why Woodbury is trying so hard to be Blaine.

      • BJ

        Your commentary makes it sound as if the team screwed over the city, where from my point of view it is the other way around. City still has a million dollars for ‘advertising’ rights. A space that might command 50,000 or less a year in advertising.

        They also paid for the structure, exterior, of a locker room and weight room. Space the team has never been able to use.

        It is a beautiful space by the way did some training there this past fall.

        The soccer side is only about 1/4 to 1/3 of the place the rest is hockey and conference rooms.

        • Local governments shouldn’t be in bed with pro sports.

          Facilities should be for the benefit of a community’s residents.

          • BJ

            I’m saying that Woodbury didn’t get burned, the pro sports team did. The community got a million dollars free and clear.

          • You guys can certainly argue that. (Headline changed in recognition of that)

            The size of the project expanded when your team came calling. The original estimate for the project was $17 million. It expanded to $22 million.

            Now clearly that’s not all soccer, but the project expanded once the city decided to have out of town partners involved and then sold it to the city.

            When MN United came calling, Woodbury got stars in its eyes.

            It was a bad deal all around.

            Local communities need to stay away from deals with pro sports (and probably big restaurants).

          • BJ

            If project had finished on time I think its a win for everyone.

            PS Something like 4+ current professional soccer players that grew up in Woodbury or close enough to it. Kassey Kallman plays for Boston Breakers, her brothers Brian and Brent both play for Minnesota United and Eric Miller with Montreal Impact.

          • There’s plenty of soccer fields there for any local kids who want to play and go on to bigger and better things if that what they want to do.

            Of course, there were a lot of soccer fields at the local parks which have since been pretty much abandoned since Bielenberg was built.

            There’s a case to be made that local government has a mission to provide recreational facilities to its residents. I don’t believe it has any such mission to become business partners with private business.

            Meanwhile, while it pours millions into glitzy facilities and chases the big lights, the city struggles to find $20 million to fix its crumbling roads because it used a faulty state guideline for mixing blacktop.

            Heck a year or so ago the city budget proposal called for nine — NINE — additional groundskeepers on the Bielenberg site.

          • Pete

            Is it really true that a lot of soccer fields at the local parks have been abandoned since Bielenberg was built? Beilenberg was built in 1995. I grew up in and around Woodbury in the 90s and never noticed that. If so, what does that have to do with a partnership with a professional soccer team initiating in 2013? Or did you mean to say that parks have fallen into disrepair since 2013 when a local professional soccer team came and invested a million dollars into the complex?

            What about the third of the three partners? The Madison Claire Foundation – no mention of that name. I have no idea if that partnership is still intact. It seems a great cause and you can’t seem bothered to mention it.

            This blog post seems poorly sourced, and I don’t completely get it. Are municipal/private partnerships bad in any instance? Is that your point? Or is it the fault of the local soccer team? If so, why not reach out to MN United FC to try and get some comments rather than quoting a Woodbury Bulletin article without any further input? If you did and they refused comment, why not mention that, rather than doubling down on what the team president said to a Woodbury Bulletin reporter.

          • In my conversation with BJ, who doesn’t live in Woodbury, I was providing him with a history of Bielenberg and how it’s grown and the effect on the community. BJ had seemed to suggest that there was a relationship between Bielenberg and the number of local people in pro soccer.

            The Madison Claire Foundation — a Woodbury organization — is a great organization and did a great job of fundraising to build a playground. That seems well suited to fill the mission of a local government expenditure: serving local residents.

            From a $6 million project for the original field house, Woodbury now has spent $22 million its replacement, and obviously had a plan to use the private partnerships — dependent on each other — to create a “destination” venue.

            It’s quite a complex, a far cry from that original vision for it, for sure. Good luck to them.

          • BJ

            I’m glad you made some changes to headline and intro. You are one of the best in the business!