Should Minneapolis Build an Urban Soccer Stadium?

Professional soccer is coming to Minneapolis, probably.

Sports Illustrated reported last week that Minnesota United is likely the next addition to Major League Soccer. This is exciting news for many. For others, it begs the question: Do we need another stadium?

I’ll leave the politics to Alex Schieferdecker. Instead, I wanted to ask the question: Should Minneapolis build an urban soccer stadium?

History has shown us that downtowns are great for stadiums, but stadiums aren’t always great for downtowns. If this dynamic was a Facebook relationship status, it would read “It’s complicated“. To use myself as an example: as a fan, I would much rather see an urban stadium. Yet, as an urbanist, the suburbs may be better suited.

In many ways, Minnesota sports fans are lucky. Let me rephrase that: Minnesota sports fans are lucky we don’t have any mega suburban sports stadiums (tax bills aside). This reality becomes abundantly clear when you visit a stadium that isn’t located within a downtown.

I had the pleasure of escaping the bitter Minnesota winter and visiting Florida’s Gulf Coast. Conveniently, my beloved Minnesota Twins were in nearby Fort Myers for spring training and I picked up last minute tickets for the nearly sold-out game.

Hammond Stadium is a nicely designed small park that’s lovely on a 70 degree Florida night. It fits a good crowd without being to crowded. But, there’s a problem with the atmosphere outside the stadium; it’s a suburban stadium in arguable one of America’s most suburban cities.

fort myers twins stadium

Hammond Stadium is a long drive from nearly everywhere. You’ll find yourself dodging “Florida Drivers” along the five lane stroad until you hit the Little League fields. A volunteer will take your $10 and instruct you which field to park on (important tangent, it is oddly exciting to drive and park on a baseball field). Then you’ve got a long walk through another parking lot. The view is good, in so much as you don’t look left or right.

I must thank Fort Myers for allowing me to truly appreciate Target Field.

As a fan, the experience of the suburban stadium feels restrictive. It’s a business model designed to capture every dollar akin to airport retail; you’ve gone through security so you’re stuck with the flimsy $11 turkey sandwich and $4 bottle of Diet Coke. This model thrives in the suburban environment where a team can better monopolize parking revenues, food and beverage, and other miscellaneous sales, such as t-shirts, hats, and over-sized foam “#1” fingers. While it’s a good business model, these stadiums operate as a near monopoly; prices are often higher and food choices lacking.

It’s clear that the fan experience just doesn’t compare to a good urban stadium, which when done well, puts the team on display as much as it puts the city on display. It is this element that is so appealing to city leadership. Yet, there is a dark side to urban stadiums. If they are built in a way that isn’t context-sensitive, they’re a mixed bag when it comes to urbanism, city finances, and future development.

Professional stadiums can be isolating places. Look around the former Metrodome (or the Xcel Center in St. Paul), they haven’t produced great land use results. Stadiums, more times than not, neutralize the space around them and kill the streetscapes. Famous British urbanist, Charles Landry, once commented on Minnesota Public Radio regarding the Vikings stadium back in 2012;

“In general, stadia neutralize the space around them and kill the city- as an urban construct … So really, the question is to think through in a physical sense – how the stadium is helping foster that sense that we’re in a city, rather than there’s a point occasionally where an event happens.” [MPR]

The funding of stadiums is also controversial. In an era of limited municipal resources, it begs the question of priority. Furthermore, downtown stadiums that don’t get financing will typically be tax exempt and take valuable downtown real estate off the property tax rolls.

I have been skeptical of stadiums for quite some time [you can read about it here, here, and here]. Stadiums are inherently a suburban style land use imposed on an urban core. Yet, this outcome still feels better than having stadiums in the suburbs.

Urban stadiums provide a much better all-around experience. It is for this reason that you can’t blame anyone for wanting a stadium to co-exist amongst the exciting urban revival of most major American cities. That is to say, there appears to be something more to sports than just sport.

Yet, it’s difficult to make the argument that city’s always win-win by having an urban stadium. Their bottom-line may better to suited for something else. On all of these matters, there are always trade-offs; and it will be interesting to see where the Minnesota United will land.


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25 Responses to Should Minneapolis Build an Urban Soccer Stadium?

  1. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson March 15, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

    I deeply wish for an “urban” stadium. The Twins stadium has shown us how it must be done. The Vikings stadium has shown us we should at the least plan for wider neighborhood changes to get it right and soften the suburbanism quality to a stadium.

  2. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker March 15, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

    So a couple of points:

    – For MLS, it’s downtown or nothing. They will not expand to another suburban stadium, that part of their history is over. MLS teams with downtown stadiums have thrived, while MLS teams with suburban locations (with one notable exception in Kansas City) have struggled.

    – Miami’s bid is led by David Beckham, and backed by a Bolivian telecom billionaire, and yet they can’t get a MLS spot without a downtown stadium plan.

    – For fans of our existing professional team, Minnesota United, who don’t want to see soccer in a dome with turf (both big no-nos for soccer), or a team run by the Vikings, then this is our best option and the whole soccer community wants to see this happen.

    All of that said, from an urban perspective, stadiums are obviously a big issue. The plans for the MNUFC stadium are not yet public. However, we do know that it will be located at the 501 Royalston property, near the farmers market. It’s not clear what other developers are rushing to build in that part of town, and so there probably isn’t an alternative idea for this stadium site. Build it, or it probably stays the same for at least another decade.

    Stadiums are best when they fit into the neighborhood context (see: Wrigley, Camden Yards). The context here is really non-existent. That gives a unique opportunity. I definitely am hoping that this stadium proposal will be more than just a stadium proposal, but an idea for the whole area. The Polhad family is backing the MNUFC bid, and it would be great to see United Properties commit to developing some mixed use apartments around the Royalston Station, the stadium, and a refurbished farmers market. There’s certainly potential for this stadium plan to cover more than just a stadium.

    In addition, it would be excellent if this stadium had a wealth of ground floor retail. A merch store is probably guaranteed. A dedicated soccer bar would be great. But we could think more outside of the box. A gym? Why not? There will probably already be one for the players. A bottle shop? Yes please!

    Anyway, it’s all speculation until we see the actual plans. But the potential is there that this stadium really can build a whole neighborhood from scratch. Might be too optimistic to think that’s likely, but for now, I can dream!

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller March 16, 2015 at 11:01 pm #

      Mostly agree with you, but retail will not work without more people. Housing is a must, and at the moment, this area is really unappealing. Maybe a stadium can make it less so.

  3. John March 15, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

    Completely agree needs to be a soccer-only stadium and located in the city, in proximity to transport infrastructure to make the most convenient for all.

    The much-discussed Farmers Market area makes sense as a location and the new stadium investment, if done with the context of the broader area kept in mind, would bring value & benefit to the area.

    Regarding stadium financing, Minnesota United’s 3 billionaire owners & MLS consortium (McGuire, Pohlad, Taylor) should pony up for their own, soccer-only stadium in downtown Minneapolis!

    City / county could chip in a bit to provide any required ancillary infrastructure (i.e. road modifications / light rail station, etc.), but otherwise any new, soccer-only stadium needs to be privately financed by the more than able ownership group that will benefit most from being awarded an MLS franchise.

  4. 444 March 15, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

    it should be noted Dr. Glen Nelson and his wife are the fourth billionaires recently added to the investing group.

  5. Brian Quarstad March 16, 2015 at 7:04 am #

    As to professional soccer coming to Minneapolis, It should also be pointed out that Alex Schieferdecker was actually the one who broke this original story Thursday morning on the new Minnesota soccer website, Northern Pitich.com.

    And Alex is correct, MLS has no interest whatsoever in suburban stadiums. It’s been tried and it doesn’t work very well. Their target market is millennia’s. It’s not the same market as football, where many are older and have a higher base income and drive in from the southern and western suburbs, or baseball where the age of the average person watching the World Series is about 50-years-old.

    People who will go to these games will be hanging out in Downtown, the North Loop, NE, Uptown and other areas before and after the games. They will be using a lot of public transit and there will be lots and lots of bikes used for transit. BTW, that’s another great feature of the site of the new soccer stadium. The transit center and the Cedar Lake bike trail.

    MLS Commissioner Don Garber recently stated about our local team and Minneapolis: “There’s enormous momentum in that market. They’ve got a great NASL team (Minnesota United). There’s a really cool dynamic happening in the downtown area. There’s a ton of millenials who are moving in there. There’s a lot of corporations and young people, particularly people from many different countries, who are moving to that part of the country, so we think Minneapolis would be a great market.”

    Beside MLS understanding and embracing the whole new urbanism thing, I believe so does owner Bill McGuire understand. I am hearing rumors that one of the things they are looking to do beside expand the development of the North Loop to the west, is to make improvements to the Farmers Market.

  6. Jesse Langanki March 16, 2015 at 8:31 am #

    What is the advantage of a new stadium over TCF Bank stadium? Are they worried TCF Bank has too many seats? There might be a bigger crowd than they expect. It is already a perfectly nice, outdoor stadium that has its own light rail stop, and sits empty in the summer. The University is perfectly willing to share, and the shared maintenance costs will be cheaper for everyone.

  7. Brian Quarstad March 16, 2015 at 8:57 am #

    Jesse, Being that TCF bank stadium is a University stadium the red tape is thick and the cost extremely expensive. MN United played there in the double header of last summers match with Manchester City and Olympiakos. The supporters section was not able to bring in their normal TIFO (banners, flags, instrument’s etc…) that normally make the supports section the passionate group that they are. Plus teams make money by owning the stadium, concessions or parking suites. TCF Bank Stadium, while nice, is really a non starter and as you say, is also oversized for most MLS teams.

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker March 16, 2015 at 10:45 am #

      It’s also turf.

  8. Ron March 16, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    No.
    Make a nice field there for the public to play soccer on instead.
    How are these billionaires asking for public money (they will) not shamed out of public life?

  9. aexx March 16, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

    I rather like the idea of an urban, grass-field soccer stadium. I have some serious stadium fatigue, but if we can get this with no/limited public financing, then that would be great. IN GENERAL, this is the sort of project I can get behind.

    What I do find interesting is that urbanists on this site and elsewhere moaned about there being separate facilities for every single other sport in the Twin Cities (“Why can’t they share? The Metrodome was perfectly fine.”), but seem very much in favor of soccer having their own stadium. This does strike me as more than a little bit hypocritical and self-serving: Folks who aren’t fans of football complaining about the new DTE stadium, but being soccer-lovers and drooling over the prospect of taking light rail to see United play.

    • Matt Brillhart March 16, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

      I think you’ll find that most of us bemoan the lack of coordination in general. I’m not a soccer fan, but it does seem to have somewhat specific needs that don’t match well with another stadium capacity.

      By all means though, it is colossally stupid that the Vikings and Gophers don’t share a football stadium (hey, they’re actually doing just that right now!). The Wild and Timberwolves should also be sharing. I was a big fan of Mayor Coleman’s stadium funding plan plan that would’ve sent the T-Wolves to St. Paul. Instead Minneapolis got (some) state money to renovate Target Center so we can continue to have two publicly-owned arenas competing against each other. Dumb. St. Paul Saints and Gopher Baseball could probably have shared a small ballpark, though it probably wouldn’t be in Lowertown.

      • aexx March 16, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

        No disagreement with the gist of what you’re saying, but in the world of scarce resources, we’ve wasted a whole lot of them building everyone their own palace, and many urbanists have rightfully criticized that.

        I couldn’t tell you where I read the arguments anymore (either here in the comments or, very likely, on the forums), but there were plenty of folks making an argument something along the lines of not everyone getting exactly what they want when the public is footing the bill. After all, the Metrodome worked for three sports (and four teams) and many conventions/rallies/etc.

        If we were being real about actually being responsible, we’d not only have the Vikings and Gophers playing together, but we’d also insist that while the MLS might not love playing indoors or on turf or whatever, that it isn’t financially responsible to give them their own playground if the taxpayers are the ones shelling out for it.

        I know the MLS says they won’t play in those conditions. The fact is, if the MLS wanted to be in Minneapolis, they’d find a way, even if they didn’t have an outdoor stadium. We’re just really, really good at giving rich folks what they inevitably demand.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller March 16, 2015 at 11:08 pm #

          The Metrodome worked. Then it didn’t.

          the notion that leagues will keep accepting it not working is fantasy. Maybe you don’t care, but then say that.

          • aexx March 17, 2015 at 9:04 am #

            I rather like the Vikings, Twins, Wild, Timberwolves (and presumably United).

            I also rather like the stadiums they’ve produced. Mostly because the Metrodome was ugly. Not because it didn’t work (because it did…it just didn’t make as much money as the leagues would have liked).

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller March 17, 2015 at 10:20 am #

              I don’t know how a stadium can be said to “work” if it does not generate enough revenue for the team and league to want to continue playing in it.

              The Metrodome was also part of a larger failure to do anything with it’s surrounding part of town.

          • Matt Steele March 17, 2015 at 9:45 am #

            It didn’t work for the leagues. It worked for the taxpayers. If they want something that works for them, they should fund the difference. We have more important things to do with our scarce public dollars.

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller March 17, 2015 at 10:21 am #

              While dollars are fungible, political coalitions to raise and spend them are not.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller March 16, 2015 at 11:06 pm #

        The question is what are you solving for? If it’s minimal public cost, you’re right.

        If it’s what’s best for each program, you’re not.

        • aexx March 17, 2015 at 9:19 am #

          What is it you’re even arguing? That each team should get their own stadium? Then say that.

          Urbanists realize we have limited resources. Such as, say, the ROW of a street. And we realize that there are wasteful ways to use up that ROW (fast-moving roads that prioritize cars) and there are better ways (sidewalks and bike lanes, sometimes transit lanes, etc.) But there are few places where we can’t make everyone happy – it’s hard to squeeze in 4 traffic lanes, a turn lane, bike lanes, comfortable sidewalks, plus some green space. So we look and say, “How do we maximize our benefit while minimizing our costs?”

          In other words, how do we keep perfect from being the enemy of good? Spoiler: It’s going to make some people unhappy.

          If all of the pro sports owners wanted to pay their own way, then fine! That’s their prerogative. If the public needs to chip in, that’s when we need to look at the scarce resource and funding mechanisms we have. Maybe it means saying, “You know what, Timberwolves? It doesn’t make sense to keep you in a separate facility from the Wild.” Or: “Hey Vikings, we just built a beautiful new stadium over on the University’s campus. Why don’t you go there and we’ll chip in to make it even better?”

          Maybe that means MLS would get its own stadium. Maybe it doesn’t.

          I love the Xcel Energy Center, TCF Bank Stadium, and Target Field (not so much the Target Center…at least not yet). I’ll presumably like US Bank Stadium, or whatever they decide to call it.

          But let’s be real – if anyone is actually arguing that all of these facilities were either A) needed or B) a good deal for the public, they’re just fanboys.

  10. Ben March 16, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

    As long as the people living in whatever neighborhood it goes into get their say and no tax dollars are used, do what you want. If you want tax dollars, have the state gaming commission slot all of the funds from an electronic meat raffle to go to it, it worked so well for electronic pull tabs…

  11. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller March 16, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

    The suburban land use is an assumption derived from cars. If you don’t surround it with extra parking, which isn’t necessary in a commuter-dominated downtown, it’s not inherently suburban.

    But you have to say no to that portion of the fan base that wants you to subsidize their ability to import food and drink they can drink in a parking lot.

  12. eric March 17, 2015 at 9:30 am #

    “What I do find interesting is that urbanists on this site and elsewhere moaned about there being separate facilities for every single other sport in the Twin Cities (“Why can’t they share? The Metrodome was perfectly fine.”), but seem very much in favor of soccer having their own stadium..”

    Bingo-Soccer and Stadiums are the perfect double-edge sword for our knee-jerk token urbanist take machines. We hate wasting space/money on sports, but we somehow know that a downtown SS stadium will up our city’s urbanist cred. It’s a tough world.

  13. Camden April 2, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

    The Twin Cities do not have suburban space for large stadiums save the national sports center in Blaine or the defunct army ammunition plant in Arden Hills…but that is currently a superfund site. So, the only logical option for the Cities is the urban core which already has transit connections built in. The urban core is where all of the primary growth will be in the next 50 years so putting stadiums there is the right idea. The cost and headache of owning a car is beyond many millenials which is changing the entire framwork of the Twin Cities, stadiums included.

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