The secret society of St. Paul and soccer

There may be a very good reason to build a soccer stadium in St. Paul using taxpayer funds in some capacity. There may be a very good reason to build a soccer stadium in Minneapolis using taxpayer funds in some capacity.

But the secrecy with which Minnesota United has wandered the landscape looking for a soccer friend has been troubling right from the start. Now, the people in charge of the taxpayer-portion of a deal are climbing into bed and pulling the covers, MPR’s Curtis Gilbert reports today.

This week, he reports, the city of St. Paul, St. Paul Port Authority, and the Metropolitan Council will each vote on an agreement designed to shield negotiations from open records laws.

They are allegedly worried that trade secrets, real estate appraisals and applications for “public financial assistance” will be revealed.

Trade secrets? Understandable. Real estate appraisals? Fair enough. Applications for public financial assistance? Well, hold on just a second. The people being shut out have a dog in that fight.

The push for more secrecy isn’t that surprising. The participants telegraphed that earlier this year. And there wasn’t much pushback.

The city of St. Paul and Ramsey County have passed resolutions supporting a tax break, although neither city council members nor county commissioners publicly discussed the dollar value of the exemption or precisely what they were exempting, MPR’s Tim Nelson reported last month.

“I thought it was important … that we lay out some more of our collective thinking about what a deal would have to include for us to be supportive of it,” Council Member Russ Stark told MPR News, adding some of his constituents worry that the proposal is moving forward too quickly.

What about too quietly?

MinnPost reported last week that the once-private stadium would be owned by the city under the current deal. No part of the article mentioned a dollar figure for any part of the project. How could it?

“This is as far from transparency as one could get, and it’s all based on a bunch a legal gobbledygook,” Don Gemberling, an expert on the state’s data practices law added. “Members of the City Council and the Metropolitan Council ought to be saying, ‘what are we doing here?'”

There’s a fair chance — given the history of sports franchises in America — that they know what they’re doing there. They’re trying to cut a deal for public assistance for a private sports facility knowing that sports stadiums have become a political third rail. There are only two ways around that: Don’t use taxpayer money for wealthy sports teams owners — the soccer team project is being spearheaded by some of the richest men in Minnesota — or keep things secret.

There’s plenty of reason for concern. McGuire may pay up to $100 million for the MLS franchise and indicated he can’t make money without taxpayer involvement.

MLS’ and the United’s strategy so far is to point at public deals for the Vikings, Twins, and Timberwolves and say, “where’s ours?”

Neil deMause, at Field of Schemes, isn’t buying it and has challenged McGuire to prove his claim by opening the books and presenting a plan.

He and MLS may do that if the cone of silence is dropped surrounding this deal. We just won’t be able to see them.

Update 2:52 p.m. 10/14/15 – St. Paul backs off on secrecy for soccer stadium talks (MPR)

  • MrE85

    Silence, taxpayer, and bow before the Secret Soccer Society of St. Paul! Honestly, this sort of thing is so frustrating.

    • Joey Jo Jo Shabadoo

      The article that seems to be purposely mis-representing the situation and sequence of events so far to provoke a reaction and garner clicks? I agree completely.

  • Gary F
    • Veronica

      So far, from what I can see, Saint Paul Strong is a Facebook page that has thrown together a bunch of nice platitudes, sprinkled in meaningless words like “safer” and “better”, but lacks any real thought or policy proposals beyond transparency. That kind of stuff dumbs down the political process by distracting from any meaningful discussion.

  • San Francisco wouldn’t help the Warriors with tax dollars, so their billionaire owners paid for it all themselves. They have the money, people! Good to see a city say “no.”

  • Rob

    Is this a great country, or what?

  • Joey Jo Jo Shabadoo

    They are not asking for direct funds, but for property tax breaks. This is an important distinction and the author does not lay this out clearly. “in some capacity” is very vague language.

    • BJ

      The team also sent out a press release with exactly what they wanted for the stadium. That doesn’t seem like the team is wandering around in secrecy. They have directed press inquiries to that press release. Again just because they aren’t holding press conferences about stadium each week doesn’t seem like keeping secrets.

      Let’s have that actual conversation about what they have asked for and if it makes sense. Let’s not say they might ask for a rocket ship, when they have specifically asked for an airplane ticket.

      • Joey Jo Jo Shabadoo

        Another adult in this conversation?! Holy cow!

      • I love you, Brian and your passion is admirable, but of all the sports arenas/stadium projects, this one has been the most secretive of all.

        Star Tribune – July 10
        The mayor has had two informal meetings with the local ownership group led by Dr. Bill McGuire, who owns the Minnesota United FC franchise, but no specific deal has been discussed. Neither team officials nor McGuire would comment Thursday.

        Northern Pitch – Aug 27
        ollowing the ceremony, a Minnesota United spokesman said that the team would have no comment on the potential of building a new stadium at the new site.

        Minnpost – Aug 15
        McGuire and team president Nick Rogers said through a spokesman that they had no comment about the stadium talks.

        Pioneer Press – Sept 22
        Garber said Monday that he was not in conversations with Minneapolis, but he said he could not speak for team owner Bill McGuire. The team owner has not responded to media requests for comment since March.

        • BJ

          I love you too Bob. But, I disagree. I think this has gotten more sunlight than either Twins or Vikings proposals ever had at their 5 month marks.

          Here is the link

          The parts asking for government help:

          The MLS stadium will be privately financed and not paid for with any taxpayer supported
          subsidies. The State has routinely provided economic development tools for projects large
          and small. We request that three of these tools be applied to the MLS stadium to ensure its
          success. All of these tools have been applied to other professional sport facilities, each of
          which also obtained significant taxpayer funded support.
          This limited request relates only to tax proceeds that would not exist unless the planned
          construction and use occurs:
          • Sales tax exemption for facility construction materials and supplies.
          • Property tax exemption / relief limited to the MLS facility and land only. No
          professional, college, school or youth stadium is subjected to local property taxes
          (i.e.: Twins, Timberwolves, Vikings, Saints, Gophers, Wild, etc.).
          • Limits on future local taxes levied on the facility and operations that do not
          currently exist.

          • BJ
          • Those are news releases about a proposal for a soccer stadium in Minneapolis. It has nothing to do with a proposal in St. Paul.

          • BJ, there’s a post sitting in the “pending” section of the queue. I have no idea why; it looks fine to me. Do you want it pushed out?

            On another subject, god help me but Lester Bagley looks positively like an information sieve compared to McGuire/Rogers.

          • BJ

            Lester Bagley – Trust me he is NO McGuire / Rogers. And I know well McGuire’s ‘board room issues’. Not even close to the same quality of people. Just thinking back to Bagley makes me want to take a shower.

      • Is this the press release you’re claiming answers the questions that reporters have been asking about a stadium in St. Paul?

        Minnesota United FC are on the road to MLS, and one of the key parts of that process is building a stadium for the team.

        In April, team owner Dr. Bill McGuire met with state officials to discuss the proposal for a privately funded $120 million stadium to be situated in Minneapolis’s West Loop neighborhood.

        On Tuesday, the current Minnesota legislative session ended without an agreement on a bill that would have provided tax relief for the stadium project, and the club released the following statement:

        “Unfortunately the legislature, during the regular legislative session, was unable to reach agreement on a number of important issues including a tax bill, or to consider our request for tax relief and economic development tools that have been used for every professional sport facility as well as many major building projects throughout the state,” Minnesota United President Nick Rogers said.

        “Our belief that Major League Soccer is a fantastic economic and cultural opportunity for our region is confirmed by the outpouring of support for the soccer experience from current fans, the huge amateur soccer community throughout Minnesota, organizations representing businesses and community-based programs and many municipal and state legislative leaders.

        “We feel that our stadium proposal, which is unprecedented and involves no governmental funds for the stadium construction, creates the basis for moving forward in a positive partnership with the community. Accordingly, our organization is assessing all options in search of a solution that will secure a soccer-specific venue and Major League Soccer in Minnesota.

        “On behalf of our entire organization, I thank our fans and supporters for their outpouring of support for our continuing efforts.”


        On August 26th, they put out this release after the City Council vote:

        “We are pleased to see continued support for bringing Major League Soccer to Minnesota. Today’s unanimous vote by the St. Paul City Council is a positive endorsement of our project and we look forward to continuing discussions about locating an MLS soccer stadium on the Midway site.”—Minnesota United President Nick Rogers”


        That was August 26th.

        On July 21, they put out this release:

        “We remain committed to making MLS a reality in Minnesota. Since being awarded an expansion club three months ago, support for our effort has grown across the state as countless communities, youth soccer associations, and business interests have expressed support for having Major League Soccer as part of our community.
        As MLS has repeatedly stated, however, our ability to secure an MLS club is contingent on us finalizing a plan for a new stadium that will serve as a permanent home for our club.

        We are pleased that MLS has agreed to meet with officials from St. Paul to learn about the possibility of building a new stadium there as we believe this is an opportunity that deserves to be evaluated further.”


        As near as I can tell, these are the ONLY press releases the club has put out and only two of them have anything to do with the stadium proposal in St. Paul, none of them provides any significant information.

        So you’re seeing a release I’m not, can you post it?