MLS officially goes to non-Vikings group

The MLS awarded a team to Minnesota, but, as expected, it wasn’t to the Vikings ownership group.

Major League Soccer has committed to Minnesota, awarding an expansion franchise to start playing in 2018 with the expectation an outdoor stadium will be built before then.

Bill McGuire, the former health care executive and current owner of the Minnesota United club in the second-tier North American Soccer League, has assembled a group of investors including the owners of MLB’s Twins and the NBA’s Timberwolves.

MLS officials joined McGuire and hundreds of other supporters of the sport at a celebratory news conference Wednesday at Target Field, where the Twins play. That’s just a few blocks away from the proposed site of a new stadium with natural grass that would have a capacity of about 18,500 and cost between $100 million and $200 million.

“It’s hard to be anything but humbled, I think,” said McGuire, a physician who became chief executive officer at UnitedHealth Group before leaving the post in 2006 amid a stock-option-backdating scandal that resulted in a $468 million settlement with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

McGuire didn’t provide specifics about how the stadium would be financed, but his group has been working to finalize a plan by July 1. The site is part of the developing North Loop neighborhood, on the west edge of downtown near a public transportation hub where two light rail lines and a suburban commuter train originate.

The appetite at the state capitol and among local governments for considering contributions to sports stadiums is nonexistent. Hefty subsidies in various forms have been approved over the last 15 years in Minnesota over fierce objections from politicians and citizens alike, for new venues for the Wild (NHL), the University of Minnesota football team, the Twins and the NFL’s Vikings. Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday that a public stadium contribution for soccer would be a non-starter.

“They need to fully realize that it is something they are going to have to pay for out of their own private resources,” Dayton said.

Dayton, in further comments Wednesday, reiterated broad opposition to a direct subsidy but didn’t close the door on other methods of assistance. The state has not been approached with a proposal, he said.

Dayton said it’s possible the state transportation department or county governments would help with roads or other infrastructure improvements in the vicinity of a stadium.

“If there’s another exit ramp or widening of an exit ramp necessary to accommodate the increased flow of traffic, that’s something we do for project expansions all over the state,” Dayton said. “And if it fits within that norm — it’s premature, but — that is something in my mind that could be considered.”

McGuire’s group was still being finalized, but already included are Bob Pohlad and Jim Pohlad of the Twins ownership family, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and Wendy Carlson Nelson, a third-generation family member of Carlson, the Twin Cities area hospitality and travel company that owns Radisson hotels and other brands.

“They are totally committed. They love this game. They love this city, and they’ve got a great plan for a building,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.

MLS has preferred smaller open-air venues, so Vikings owners were passed over in their pursuit of the league’s 23rd franchise to play in the massive, covered stadium set to open for the 2016 NFL season.
Sacramento, California, has also been under consideration in the league’s plan to expand to 24 teams. MLS has 20 teams this season. Franchises are on their way to Atlanta and the Los Angeles area for 2017, and Miami was previously promised a team if a new stadium can be secured, but that hasn’t happened yet.


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