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What does St. Paul want to keep secret about the new soccer stadium?

St. Paul fought hard for a proposed Major League Soccer stadium that will likely be tax-free. But its quest for secret negotiations may mean more welfare is on the table.

St. Paul fought hard for a proposed Major League Soccer stadium that will likely be tax-free. But its quest for secret negotiations may mean more welfare is on the table.

Three governmental agencies involved in bringing the Minnesota United FC soccer stadium to St. Paul want to be able to talk to each other about those plans without the public listening in.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting there will be a vote on whether the City of St. Paul, its Port Authority, and the Met Council should be able to keep negotiations over the cost of the intended site under wraps. The Minnesota United has already promised to pay for the stadium project entirely on its own. The land, a Metro Transit bus barn near Interstate 94 and Snelling Avenue, would be tax-exempt.

Don Gemberling, an expert on Minnesota’s data practices law, took a look at the confidentiality agreement that the agencies proposed. He says parts of it look suspiciously out of place. For instance, the city’s lawyers asked for stadium information to be considered trade secrets. “By definition, governmental agencies cannot generate trade secrets,” he says. “The only way they can have trade secrets is if they get them from businesses. Why is this even here?”

Minnesota law also allows for governmental information to be private if it includes real estate quotes and, strangely, applications to dip into public funds. It’s that way because the Legislature wanted to entice private companies to do business with government, Gembering says, and it’s much easier for companies to ask for welfare if those proposals are kept hidden from taxpayers.

Thomas Collins of the St. Paul Port Authority insists that there’s nothing to hide. The Met Council is the one asking for discretion because it’s currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the owner of a property adjacent to the bus barn, he says. If negotiations over leasing the Met Council’s land to Minnesota United were public, sensitive information from that civil case would be revealed as well.

“The only goal here is to get a stadium on the bus barn site,” Collins says. “They haven’t decided that they’re going to pick this site, and that’s why we wanted to move to get as much access to it as we possibly could, so when it comes time for them to make a decision about where to put this thing, the bus barn site is available.”

The language in the agreement could use some work, Collins adds. It might change before the City Council gets to a vote.

Wednesday's City Council meeting is at 3:30 p.m.