National Sports Center Asks State For $8.7 Million To Get Bigger, Better

By Shannon Prather, Star Tribune, March 18, 2016

BLAINE, Minn.---The most visited sports facility in Minnesota could grow bigger and even busier.

The state-owned National Sports Center and the city of Blaine are seeking a total of $8.7 million in state funding to add a dozen more playing fields, build a new maintenance building and rebuild a road leading to the sprawling 600-acre complex.

They’re each independently asking for state bonding this legislative session.

The National Sports Center draws 4 million visitors a year — more than Target Field — and lays claim to the title of world’s largest amateur sports and meeting facility.

It could also one day be home to a major league franchise. National Sports Center officials are negotiating to have the sports complex become the practice site for Minnesota United, the state’s new Major League Soccer team.

But the current bonding requests are about amateur athletes and how to better serve them. 

Sports Center officials say they need $5.5 million to complete a second phase of expansion that would increase the number of fields from 54 to 66. More fields means that more teams can play in their marquee event: Schwan’s USA Cup International Youth Soccer Tournament.

The demand to play in the tournament is strong and growing, said National Sports Center spokesman Barclay Kruse.

“Our registration numbers this year are tracking ahead of last year, and last year was a record year with 1,153 teams,” Kruse said.

The new fields could accommodate 1,400 teams, a 20 percent increase, Kruse said.

The sports center has already acquired the land for the new fields. Workers two years ago prepared and planted eight new fields, which will be ready for play for the first time this summer.

A slower, safer gateway

In a separate bonding request, Blaine officials are seeking a little more than $3.2 million to pay for half the cost of rebuilding 105th Avenue, a main route to the National Sports Center. Anoka County will chip in $1.3 million and the city will pick up the rest.

The city will host an open house to discuss the 105th Avenue improvement from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on March 25 at City Hall. Mayor Tom Ryan, Metropolitan Council Chairman Adam Duininck and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle are scheduled to speak.

Among other things, fixing the road could be critical for Minnesota’s new Major League Soccer franchise.

Minnesota United executives are in talks with the National Sports Center to make it the team’s official practice facility and home to a minor league team, Kruse said.

“We believe it would be a great win-win for both parties,” Kruse said. “We really want the team to be training here.”

Normally Blaine would assess property owners for reconstructing a road, but the city can’t assess state-owned land, said City Manager Clark Arneson.

The redesigned 105th Avenue likely would include roundabouts that would slow traffic and make it safer for players, parents and spectators to cross. Usage soars during tournaments, concerts and other events.

“Our purpose is to slow it down and make it safe for events,” Ryan said. “About 11,000 cars a day use it.”

The one-mile stretch is the quickest connection from the sports center to Radisson Road and Interstate 35W. It also serves as a gateway to the sports complex and is seen by many out-of-towners when they compete there, the mayor said.

“To let it sit that way now, it is an embarrassment,” Ryan said.

Plans for a tunnel and pedestrian bridge have been scrapped as too expensive, Ryan said. Planners also feared that kids wouldn’t use them.

“I hope we get it,” Ryan said. “Without the road, you don’t have good access. … I hope they figure out a way they can do them both. It is a revenue source for Minnesota.”

The National Sports Center generates an estimated $47 million in economic impact annually, Kruse said. Most of that — $32 million — happens around the Schwan’s USA Cup, which draws teams from around the world.