Public funding for stadiums is a complicated subject. There’s no straightforward answer on whether cities, countries and states should do it, and to what extent, and what kind of return municipalities actually get from the venues. But we can, with almost complete certainty, say this: it is usually a bad idea that bleeds the public dry.
Major League Soccer has relied on public subsidies for many of the stadiums the league has built to this point. It doesn’t make them necessarily evil. After all, we live in a country where nearly every venue in every sport is built with some level of public funding. MLS just participates in an environment that grew for it in the decade before it built its first soccer-specific stadium. It’s benefitted from a landscape forged by others.
When MLS recently announced that Minnesota United had been awarded an expansion team, it did so without any concrete stadium information. The club would work on building a venue, and it had identified a likely plot of land, but that was all there was. That’s not so unusual for MLS nowadays, with Miami still on hold because it can’t get a stadium deal done and New York City FC playing in a baseball stadium indefinitely, but it brought up serious questions. Mainly, could the Loons build a stadium, and what would they want from the public coffers to do it?
On Tuesday, Minnesota United provided an answer. At least kind of. It provided a plan. It’s one in which it looks like they can build a stadium and a perfectly fine one at that in a wonderful location.
And as for the public, it will contribute nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
That isn’t a mistake. Minnesota United plans on building an entirely private-financed stadium. The city, county and state will not be on the hook for a single dollar of it, if the plan it’s put forward is approved.
The Loons aren’t going into this without any public involvement. They are asking for some tax breaks, notably a sales tax exemption on construction materials, a property tax exemption and a limit on new taxes that could be imposed in the future, but those things are all fairly routine. Nearly every major development in every city comes with similar requests, and those requests are usually granted under the theory that it is better to collect some taxes post-relief than no taxes from development that never gets off the ground. What United is asking for is what has been granted to every stadium in the Minneapolis area and is common not just in sporting venues but high rises, malls and pretty much any other large scale building.
All in all, Minnesota United appears to be putting forth a great deal. And it’s not a cheap one on its end. Its plan includes $100 million for the MLS expansion fee. That’s a hefty sum and one many thought was reserved for a team in a giant market, like New York. Apparently not. Beyond that, the club still plans to pay $30 million for land in downtown Minneapolis. And on top of that is another $120 million to build the stadium. For comparison’s sake, that is 20 percent more than the San Jose Earthquakes spent on the newly opened Avaya Stadium.
Suffice to say, Minnesota United is willing to spend money. A lot of it. In total, The club’s committing to dropping $250 million just to get the club off the ground. That is before it pays a single player or a single employee. All of that money just gets them in the door, with a stadium, through there’s little reason to believe the spending will stop when the team reaches MLS .
It’s a project began only three years ago, when Bill McGuire bought a floundering NASL club and turned them into one of the best in the second division. He overhauled the club with his investment, helping to grow the team and the sport in Minneapolis.
Now the club is set to make the jump to MLS. It’s doing so with an established foundation and a strong brand. It’s bringing popular local support and one of the best crests in the country to the league. And now, it’s trying to complete that journey with a privately financed stadium right in the downtown core.
The team still hasn’t played a single match in MLS yet. It doesn’t even have the complete go-ahead to join the league, needing to finalize its stadium deal first. But Minnesota United is doing all of the right things, making it damn near impossible not to root for it. The stadium plan is just the latest, and most important, step.