New Minneapolis Soccer Stadium Could Come with a Hefty Welfare Tab

The future D.C. United stadium, which will cost Washington D.C. taxpayers upwards of $140 million

The future D.C. United stadium, which will cost Washington D.C. taxpayers upwards of $140 million

UPDATE: MLS officially ruled out a Vikings-owned franchise on March 17, 2015. Weeks later, the commissioner announced that Minnesota could have an MLS franchise, but only if Minnesota could get a new soccer stadium deal in place by July.

As taxpayers choke down that $498 million welfare bill for the Vikings' new Bird Killer Stadium, the thought of funding a Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Minneapolis might go down like a wafer-thin mint.

And yet, an MLS team seems imminent, and with it, a large-scale stadium.

See also: How The Commons Became "the Worst Development Deal" in Minneapolis History

Last week, Major League Soccer expressed its support for an MLS team in Minnesota. Specifically, one led by Bill McGuire, former United Healthcare CEO and head of second-tier soccer team Minnesota United.

McGuire has proposed a new, soccer-only stadium in downtown Minneapolis. He has also reportedly secured an option to buy a property on Royalston Avenue, next to the Minneapolis Farmers Market and just a few blocks from Target Field.

The MLS, not surprisingly, seems to prize McGuire's soccer-centric vision over the Vikings' offer to cohabit their new billion dollar stadium. (Any soccer player who's been forced to play on a converted football field will understand.)

But if Major League Soccer backs McGuire, Gov. Mark Dayton has expressly opposed any more public subsidies for stadiums. Nor has Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges been high on the prospect in the past: "The city does not need another stadium to host soccer. With the new [Vikings] stadium, Target Center, and Target Field, Minneapolis already has all the venues it needs."

Minnesota's legion soccer fans disagree.

"Without the stadium, we won't have the team," says Joe Leyba of Major League Soccer for Minnesota. He's been lobbying to join major league ranks since 2011.

Leyba says he doubts McGuire is banking on large public subsidies. McGuire's investor group includes the Pohlad family, owners of the Minnesota Twins, and Glen Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Star Tribune, which Leyba cites as evidence that a privately funded stadium is possible. "They're smart people," he says. "They know they're probably going to have to do it themselves."

But unicorn-rare is the stadium that gets built without public money.

To get an idea of what it might cost taxpayers, Washington, D.C. approved a new multimillion-dollar stadium for its MLS team, D.C. United. The public welfare bill is estimated at $140 million, and includes acquisition of the land, site prep, and infrastructure development -- though the extent of the site prep cost won't be fully clear until construction is underway. The team will finance the build-out of the stadium.

So far, with Hodges and Dayton sitting firmly on the coffer lid, only Hennepin County Board Member Mike Opat has suggested the possibility of public funding. County support could mean financing infrastructure like light rail improvement and road construction. How much that could cost is not yet clear.

Soccer fans can rejoice, as the MLS-McGuire deal will likely be announced in the coming weeks. What remains to be seen is whether local government will loosen its belt for another stadium handout.

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