Taxpayer-funded stadium? Soccer booster won’t say ‘no’

There isn’t a pauper among the groups trying to bring Major League Soccer to Minnesota, but that’s never mattered before when it comes to public handouts for sports facilities.

Soccer is likely to join the “big leagues” of taxpayer financed facilities, the Star Tribune reports today.

Bill McGuire, the former United Health boss, is in the group that’s competing with the Wilf family — beneficiary of a public subsidiary, partly on the assumption that if an MLS franchise were to be awarded to the Twin Cities, it’d go in the new Vikings stadium.

“We’ll see when we confirm in our own minds the where’s and why’s of all of that,” McGuire said on the question of whether he’d seek public money for a separate soccer stadium in Minneapolis. “And depending, who knows? We haven’t asked [yet for public money]. I mean, there’s no formal ‘ask’ out there,” he said.

That’s not a “no”, which usually means a “yes” in the lingo of sports stadium efforts.

But McGuire confirmed he had spoken to Mike Opat, the Hennepin County board chair who is supporting McGuire’s soccer plans and said he prefers a soccer-only stadium near Target Field. Opat was instrumental in securing public money for the Twins ballpark. “Obviously, we’ve talked to him, and he knows our thinking about soccer,” McGuire said.

The high-stakes competition for an MLS team involving some of Minnesota’s wealthiest sports team owners has complicated a bidding process many initially thought the Vikings were well-positioned for. “It didn’t occur to us that there were going to be other folks trying to do the same thing,” said former Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the lead House author on the Vikings stadium legislation in 2012 that gave the Wilfs exclusive rights to bring a MLS team to the facility. “I bet that hit the Wilfs by surprise.”

In addressing his group’s relatively low public profile, McGuire said this week that “participating in hypothetical debates in the media doesn’t enhance” his overall efforts. While he acknowledged that MLS’ timetable for awarding its next expansion franchise “obviously influences some of what we do,” McGuire was vague on when details of his plan would be made public. “I don’t know — I think when we decide that it is appropriate and feasible,” he said.