When I was in high school 30 years ago, I had season tickets to the Minnesota Strikers soccer team of the Major Indoor Soccer League. My mother lettered in soccer at her high school back in the 1950s. Growing up in our house, soccer was a beloved sport long before the rest of the country caught on to it.
I love soccer.
So I was very disappointed yesterday to learn, along with the rest of Minnesota, that the McGuire investment group is seeking a public subsidy from both the City and the State for their new soccer stadium. Their request for a subsidy directly contradicts their claim that their facility will be privately financed.
There is no need for a subsidy for this facility, or this ownership group, whatsoever. The subsidy they are requesting will have a direct and negative impact on the taxpayers of Minneapolis.
First, the McGuire group is asking to avoid paying their fair share of property taxes — not just for a limited term of time, but forever.
The land where the MN United ownership group proposes to build the stadium is currently privately owned, so it currently pays property taxes that would disappear if the soccer stadium were exempted from taxes. Beyond that, given this land’s location on the growing edge of our booming downtown, and its proximity to the upcoming $1.6-billion public investment in Southwest light rail, there is no question that this property will be redeveloped, stadium or no stadium. A truly private development would pay property taxes there; but if a tax-exempt stadium is built there, Minneapolis taxpayers would forego millions of dollars of value on the property-tax rolls.
The argument that property taxes have been abated for other stadiums just like this one is a false one, because every other sports facility in the region has some component of public ownership. However, the ownership group said Tuesday that the soccer stadium would be privately owned and operated. This stadium is not like other stadiums: rather, this proposal is as if a private developer asked to pay no taxes — ever — on a $150-million mixed-use development in downtown Minneapolis.
There is no precedent in Minnesota for a private development’s being exempted from paying their fair share of property taxes in perpetuity. None. If this subsidy were granted, other Minneapolis homeowners and business owners would pick up the property-tax tab for a private development that will prove hugely profitable for the owners.
Second, the McGuire proposal would create a new facility that directly competes with the Target Center, a taxpayer-owned City facility. The proposed new soccer stadium is about the same size as Target Center and shares all the proximity to downtown and transit, with the advantage of being outdoors and being new. We are currently, and wisely, investing $130 million to renovate Target Center and keep it competitive for the next several decades. Why would we turn around and give away taxpayers’ dollars to compete with ourselves?
Let me be clear: I would be pleased to see a new, truly privately-financed soccer stadium at this site. A truly privately-financed stadium would pay property taxes. Those new property-tax dollars could make up for any impacts to Target Center and the City budget.
This request for a public subsidy ignores that the public has already made significant investments that will benefit the proposed soccer stadium, in the form of the $1.6-billion Southwest light rail line that includes a station at the stadium’s front door. Moreover, the proposed Bottineau LRT line will have connecting service just one station away.
And let’s also remember that the public has already financed two soccer-ready stadiums in Minnesota: the new indoor Vikings stadium is built for soccer, and the outdoor TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota has already hosted professional soccer matches. A third, truly privately-financed soccer stadium may be welcome; but we do not need a third, publicly-subsidized one.
The McGuire group has failed to demonstrate any need whatsoever for a public subsidy. Even if they choose to build a third soccer stadium, the ability of these owners to pay their own way is obvious: this remarkably high-powered ownership group, perhaps the largest ever assembled in Minnesota, can easily pay for their facility without any public assistance.
As a lifelong soccer fan, I am excited that Major League Soccer is choosing to expand in Minneapolis, and I know that my excitement is shared by thousands of fans for whom soccer has great, unique appeal. But as Mayor of Minneapolis, it’s my job to put the public’s interests ahead of private wants.