County board endorses tax break for Minnesota United because soccer is a magic economic catalyst yeah!

St. Paul’s plan to exempt part of a Minnesota United stadium site from property taxes is now 2-for-2, after the Ramsey County Board joined the St. Paul city council in voting to approve the plan. Sure, neither of these elected bodies actually have any say over tax exemptions — that’ll be up to the state legislature, so these were nonbinding resolutions — but it always helps to have local pols on board before you go to, um, St. Paul. (Sorry, metonymy breaks down when you’re actually in the capital city.) And besides, who can pick nits when there’s celebrating to be done?

“I think the benefits of getting … increased property taxes from thriving businesses is just going to be phenomenal,” said Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt.

Those would be the thriving businesses that will spring up around a new soccer stadium, presumably, which, um, yeah.

The argument here seems to be that the area around the proposed St. Paul stadium site is ripe for development, but also not ripe for development because of the high costs of building infrastructure to support it — or as the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes, “infrastructure costs would outstrip the site’s property value, making it risky for developers to take on without public investment.” So putting in a soccer stadium would take the infrastructure costs off of any private developer and place it on … okay, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s staff has suggested that the city would pay for infrastructure, by using property taxes collected from nearby businesses.

Which means either that Reinhardt needs to stop counting her revenue chickens because it’s never going to reach the public treasury before being siphoned off to pay for infrastructure, or — if there’s enough revenue at stake to pay for both at once — that the city could just put a bunch of money into infrastructure and get the rewards of new development, without having to set aside tax-free land for United in the process.

So while it’s still tough to say whether this overall deal is likely to be good or bad for St. Paul until we know more specifics, it’s fair to say that “We need to approve a soccer stadium so that we can get other stuff built next to it” is a proven dumb way to go about city planning. Though I guess there are far dumber ways to do it, so count your blessings, maybe?


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