Minnesota United backing away from Woodbury's sports complex

Body: 

Woodbury’s Bielenberg Sports Center will not be the official training facility of the Minnesota United Football Club, after all.

Minnesota United has severed its ties to much of a public/private partnership with the city of Woodbury. Instead, Minnesota United FC President Nick Rogers said, the club will continue using its current training facility, the National Sports Center in Blaine.

However, the team will continue a marketing agreement with the city of Woodbury, and may still hold scrimmages and soccer clinics at Bielenberg Sports Center.

Woodbury City Administrator Clint Gridley said the United notified the city of its intent to step out of the building and practice agreement with the city in mid-November. Since that time, Gridley said, the city has been reaching out to user groups in hopes of finding a new, permanent user for the extra space originally built at BSC to accommodate the United’s needs.

“We have absolute confidence we’re going to find the right use for that area,” Gridley said. “There’s no shortage of options for us. We’re going to be working with the City Council in 2015 to figure that out.”

Two agreements

According to Gridley, the city was initially contacted by the United in 2013, while remodeling plans for the sports complex were still developing. The team had been purchased by owner Dr. Bill McGuire in 2012, and team management had heard about Woodbury’s new indoor field house project. As designed, Bielenberg Sports Center offered the full-sized indoor field needed for a full team practice.

After months of negotiations, two agreements were drawn up between the City of Woodbury and Minnesota United FC, Gridley said. Those agreements were approved by the Woodbury City Council in late 2013.

One agreement was for the United’s use of BSC as a training facility. The agreement had two key parts. The first part of the facility agreement included adding 5,600 square feet to the project, to accommodate the training rooms, lockers, showers and other amenities needed by the United.

As the additions needed by the United altered the exterior’s design, the team agreed to put $975,000 toward the exterior work on the BSC field house. That amount, Gridley said, has been paid in full.

Terms of the facility agreement also spelled out the United’s commitment to finishing off, at the team’s own cost, the additional 5,600-square-foot interior space. It is that part of the facility agreement that United has indicated it will no longer continue.

The second agreement signed between the city and United was that of a marketing agreement. The marketing agreement is a detailed document that allows the soccer club to use Bielenberg Sports Center as a venue for advertising by their sponsors. A visible example of that agreement is the various banners already hanging in the field house, Gridley said.

Rogers said the United wants to continue the marketing agreement, the terms of which allow for the team to recoup some of the $975,000 it spent for the exterior work through advertising at Bielenberg Sports Center.

Parting ways

Minnesota United FC will continue to carry on its practices at the National Sports Center in Blaine, but may, on occasion, still rent out BSC’s field house for scrimmages and full-field practices, Rogers said.

“We still look forward to working with the Bielenberg Sports Center,” he said. “It’s not like we’re severing all ties to Woodbury.”

Rogers could not give one specific reason for the team’s decision to pull out of the Woodbury agreement, but said the team – and its needs – has changed over the past two years. As the local sports center was developed, “it became apparent the needs of both parties would not be sufficiently met,” he said.

Rogers confirmed that Minnesota United FC is being considered for expansion as a Major League Soccer franchise. Owner McGuire presented a proposal to MLS officials in November. However, Rogers would not say whether the potential expansion was a driving factor in the United’s decision.

“As (the project) progressed, it just became apparent that needs of both sides, a year down the road, were bigger than anticipated,” Rogers said.

The city of Woodbury has already started to look for new options for the space the United would have occupied, Gridley said. Over the past few weeks, building staff and parks staff have reached out to user groups to see if there is interest in the space.

At the same time, city officials are working with United to unravel the facility agreement that had been in place.

“There’s an unwinding process involved. We have been having discussions with them. We’re in negotiations on how to unwind the financial aspects. Those discussions are still going on,” Gridley said.

But Woodbury may still get a few practice sessions out of Minnesota United FC, Rogers said. The National Sports Center does not offer a full-sized, indoor turf field, so the team cannot play a full 11-on-11 practice indoors. With that in mind, the team will likely rent the field house for a few scrimmages, he said.