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MN United owner tells of lessons from soccer project

Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota, is about 70 percent complete and is expected to open in February. The $250 million stadium  will be the new home of the Minnesota United FC soccer team. (File photo: Craig Lassig/Special to Finance & Commerce)

Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota, is about 70 percent complete and is expected to open in February. The $250 million stadium will be the new home of the Minnesota United FC soccer team. (File photo: Craig Lassig/Special to Finance & Commerce)

By WILLIAM MORRIS
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Looking back, Dr. Bill McGuire can joke that his decision to buy a soccer team was “probably pre-senile dementia.”

Kidding aside, his purchase in 2012 of Minnesota Stars FC — now known as Minnesota United FC — was the result of an “emotional” and aspirational decision, said McGuire, the former chairman and CEO of UnitedHealth Group. At a real estate panel held on Wednesday in Minneapolis, he said soccer is an important asset for a city seeking a place on the world stage.

“Gosh, how can we not have professional soccer in a world in which … we all stand around and say we want to be a great international community, but don’t want to have the sport of the world?” he said. “Look at the demographics of our society and our community. Look at all the kids playing soccer and the trends in the sport and other sports, and it seemed like a logical and easy decision to step in and say, let’s keep this here.”

Six years later, that decision has led to the construction of a new professional soccer stadium and the redevelopment of a tired part of St. Paul. United FC is now close to having a completed stadium, Allianz Field, in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood at the northeast quadrant of Interstate 94 and Snelling Avenue. The $250 million stadium has already prompted redevelopment proposals for surrounding blocks, and more are on their way.

Golden Valley-based Mortenson, which is building the stadium, also is the master developer for 25 acres north and east of Allianz Field. That land is owned by the New York-based company RD Management. A city-approved master plan for the site calls for having 1 million square feet of office space, 420,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, 620 residential units and 400 hotel rooms, as well as more than 4,500 parking spaces.

“It is moving from a bit of a downtrodden area to something that I think will be pretty spectacular,” McGuire said at the event, held at Washington Square in Minneapolis.

A spokesman for Mortenson said on Wednesday the company has not announcements yet about particular tenants and projects within the master development.

Allianz Field comes as McGuire’s first foray into development, and he said he has learned important lessons about maintaining a common understanding of the project with officials at government agencies and private partners. The project also became enmeshed in the politics around Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium, which was completed in 2016.

“We started out having an uphill battle, at least in the public media … because we were coming in to do a new stadium on the heels of U.S. Bank Stadium, and all the noise and acrimony about public subsidies for sports stadiums,” he said.

Allianz Field is being built without public subsidies, McGuire said, although it is benefiting from public investment in nearby infrastructure and a state break on sales and property taxes. Peter Coyle, the moderator at the event and a shareholder at the law firm and event sponsor Larkin Hoffman, said such subsidies have become standard in other big stadium projects in recent decades.

“(Allianz Field) kind of puts the lie to the idea these projects can’t be accomplished through private equity, private investment and a lot of hard work,” he said.

On a lighter note, when someone in the audience asked about plans for game-day events outside the stadium, Coyle said, “Are you trying to ask if there’s going to be tailgating?”

McGuire described a vision for a development that lifts up the entire neighborhood around it, not just while the team is on the field.

“One of the things we hope will happen to the community through our own peripheral development and development around us is the entire area becomes more interesting for people to visit early, before the game, and stay after,” McGuire said.

Work on Allianz Field, which is about 70 percent complete, is scheduled to wrap up in February.

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