Time to act

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February 11, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
// Gov. Mark Dayton says he wants a Vikings stadium bill ASAP. But that’s about all he’ll say, leaving Downtowners to wonder how it would be paid for and where the team’s new home will end up. //

For all the tiptoeing uncertainty surrounding a new Vikings’ stadium, Gov. Mark Dayton has made one thing crystal clear: He wants action, and he wants it now.

“He’s said that this is the time to act,” said Ted Mondale, Dayton’s newly appointed head of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (MSFC). Mondale made his Capitol debut on Jan. 26, at a Senate hearing where a Metrodome update was the feature presentation.

“The Dome’s roof is down. The team’s lease is up [after the 2011 season]. It’s not an election year. This is the year to get this done,” he said, paraphrasing the governor. “If this is something the Legislature can’t do, then we want to know that and get on to focusing on schools and other issues,” like the state’s $6.2 billion budget shortfall.

But press Dayton on his specific stadium wants, and things get vague. The governor has yet to articulate a distinct position on revenue sources. Mondale has said only that the Vikings’ proposed contribution, one third the cost of a roof-less stadium, is too little, and he recently told MPR’s Kerri Miller that a new stadium “needs to be paid for as much as possible — if not totally — by user fees.”

Urgency aside, the governor has only two firm talking points. First, any new stadium needs to be a “People’s Stadium,” accommodating myriad community events that go beyond football, with a public benefit exceeding all public costs. Second, Dayton is firmly “site-agnostic,” meaning he’s noncommittal on the Vikings staying in Downtown East.  

The first point likely means that Dayton will require any new stadium to have a roof — something the Vikings say they won’t pay for. The second means that the Metrodome could lose its breadwinning tenant, putting it at risk of sinking into the red and becoming an idle site.

“Without the Vikings, without the major tenant, there is no cash flow,” said MSFC Executive Director Bill Lester, who added that the Metrodome has only $12 million currently in reserve. Without its chief tenant, the Dome would be in the red “very soon,” he said.

This last possibility was amplified on Jan. 27, when Mondale met with two Ramsey county commissioners to discuss putting a Vikings stadium on an old ammunition site in Arden Hills, north of St. Paul. Vikings president Lester Bagley told the Pioneer Press that the location is “a very viable site.” And Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett says the county would be willing to put money into the project.

The news makes many people Downtown anxious. Business and community leaders are still reeling from the Metrodome’s roof collapse and subsequent closure, which could last until August. We reached out to a few players in the stadium drama to get their perspectives.

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David Fields
Community Development Coordinator for Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc.

The Journal: You’d obviously like to see a new stadium built on the Metrodome site. What’s at stake for the neighborhood?

Fields: The EPNI stance is that we welcome a new stadium if it brings along with it revitalization and reinvestment in the community. Downtown East and Elliot Park are perfectly situated. The area represents the last frontier of underdeveloped Downtown property. And it’s not just an annex. It’s a district between the university and Downtown, it’s connected to South Minneapolis via Chicago, Portland and Park avenues. And the Downtown East LRT station will be the portal station where the new Central Corridor [scheduled to open in 2014] meets the Hiawatha LRT line. People from St. Paul and the east are going to come into Downtown Minneapolis there. And that means the area is ripe for the expansion of development that has already taken place along Washington Avenue.


You’ve been pitching a new stadium as a “multi-purpose athletic and wellness facility.” What does that mean?

We’re building a neighborhood around the strength and historical presence of the medical services in the area. Modern hospitals as holistic health care facilities and an athletic facility both promote the health and well being of individuals and the community. This is an argument for possible public investment in a new stadium. And then I could see a public entity saying, “Yeah, we’ll invest in that.”


How bad would it be for the neighborhood if the Vikings left the Metrodome?

Let’s say the Vikings leave. A bad case scenario would be that the Metrodome would become a shell of itself, an underutilized facility, not suitably designed or situated for true community uses. The worst-case scenario, it would become a blighted idle site for too many years. And that’s what we’re afraid of…

[Field mentions discussions of an alternative use for the Metrodome site going back to 2003, as part of the Downtown East/North Loop Master Plan.]

That plan presented an alternate scenario to the present Dome site, featuring a kind of housing/industry park with a central green park and/or water feature in the middle. So the city has acknowledged the possibility of Downtown East without the Dome or even a new stadium. But it’s almost been verboten to speak of a landscape without a professional sports facility. Now we might have to be prepared to speak of such a possibility.

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Barb Johnson
City Council President

The Journal: What are your thoughts about how a new stadium should be funded?

Johnson: We are very concerned about the discussion going on about tapping into our Convention Center revenues in the future. We have the Convention Center and the Target Center resting on our taxpayers, and they are state facilities. The huge majority of the revenue generated by them … goes to the state of Minnesota. We want to make our position very clear that protecting these assets are extremely important to us. We don’t think that it’s sensible to throw stuff away. In 10 years, our Convention Center will be 30 years old and it will need substantial upgrades.

[Johnson says a city finance official has estimated that an operation subsidy of a $1 billion Vikings stadium would be $50 to $70 million a year.]

That’s beyond the scope any one county or city can absorb. It has to be a bigger solution — at a minimum, a metro-wide funding source. I think the state should contribute to the roof. … It’s Minnesota’s living room. We’re not interested in having another uncovered football field.

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Cory Merrifield
Fan advocate, founder of SaveTheVikes.org

The Journal: How important, in your opinion as a fan, is it to keep the Vikings Downtown?

Merrifield: Given the current economic and political climate in Minnesota, it is going to come down to cost. It cannot be disputed that the most cost-effective site for a new stadium is on the existing Metrodome site. A cost analysis done by HKS Architects last year shows that it is actually less expensive to tear down the Metrodome and reuse the existing infrastructure (electrical, telecommunications, utilities, etc.) than it is to refurbish it into an acceptable and modern NFL stadium.

With proposed corridors going into the east and west metro areas, the Metrodome site makes most sense from a public transportation perspective. You would be able to access it from the suburbs via bus, cab or light rail. The governor has called this issue “the people’s stadium.” A people’s stadium is going to have to be easily accessible.  Minneapolis is the easiest city for 65,000 people to get in and out of for a few other reasons: quick access to multiple freeways and interstates, light rail access from the airport, hotel and lodging accommodations within walking distance from the stadium, centrally located for suburban fans.


Your blog states that, since 2002, the national average for an NFL team to contribute to a new stadium is around 43 percent of the total cost. What’s the most sensible funding strategy for a new stadium here?

The Vikings have requested a deal identical to the deal the Twins got for Target Field, which was a 41 percent contribution. In a perfect world with a better economy, the Vikings might get their requested one-third of an open-air stadium. But that isn’t the reality in Minnesota right now. What I think is going to make this happen is a public contribution less than or equal to the $32 million annual tax revenue that results from the Vikings being here in Minnesota.

Recent polls have shown that people find public financing hard to swallow — and rightfully so. The state is going through challenging times and we understand that citizens have a hard time handing over more of their hard-earned dollars in taxes for another new stadium. For that reason we have always advocated a financing solution that puts as much of the responsibility on the Vikings and the committed fans.

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Jeff Anderson
Vikings Spokesman, East Downtown Council

The Journal: Do the Vikings have an official position on where they’d like to build a stadium?

Anderson: We’re in the process of analyzing five different sites. Three are in Minneapolis, two are suburban. The only two I can confirm are the Arden Hills site and the Metrodome site. What I would say about the Arden Hills site is it’s a very viable site, and our ownership, Mark Wilf, has met with Ramsey County officials and continues to meet with them.


So are the other three sites still in the running, then?

Yes. We’re still in the process of analyzing all five. And when a bill does come forward, we expect to have a site named within that bill. Which will probably be mid-February. It’s not just the acreage and the infrastructure. All of that is important, and obviously the Metrodome site is the most cost efficient site, but you also need political support, and you need a funding source, so all of that comes into play as well.



The Vikings have committed to paying one-third the cost of an open-air stadium. Where does that figure come from? What is the comparison to the Twins’ Target Field?

We talk about one-third of the cost of an open-air stadium. Roughly, that’s about $230 million. That’s a commitment from our ownership. They’re saying we’re committed to one-third of the cost. That’s a discussion point. We understand the value and the importance of a roof. It’s just you’re adding an additional $200 million to the cost.

That’s the precedent that’s been set around the country in NFL facilities. It’s usually one-third private, two-thirds public funding. It is also the precedent that was set here with the Twins legislation. The original legislation that passed required the Twins to pay one-third of the cost of the stadium itself. Now, in the end, the Twins went on to put in enhancements to the stadium, and they covered those on their own. Which is exactly what the Vikings would do. If we decided down the road, we’d actually like to have this or this, we would do the same thing.

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R. T. Rybak

Mayor

The Journal: What’s your take on the Vikings’ interest in an Arden Hills stadium?

Rybak: While I want the Vikings in Minneapolis, if there’s a proposal to have it in Arden Hills with Ramsey County taxpayers paying for it all, we need to look at that. I think we need a statewide solution to all of it. My top priority has to be the one building that we own, which is Target Center, and make sure that it’s competitive. I believe these two buildings can go forward in some way, but I will be especially focused on Target Center…

Clearly, I believe that the infrastructure that’s already in place at the Metrodome would save the state tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. So once that analysis is done I think people will pretty clearly look at the fact that, if there’s a practical bone in peoples’ body as they make these decisions, it should go where the infrastructure is already in place, instead of a place where all that has to be built.


How should a new stadium be funded?

The city of Minneapolis pays disproportionately high hospitality taxes to be a host. So the city put about $25 million into the infrastructure for the Metrodome, when it was a $112 million project. We are putting $50 million into maintaining Target Center, as part of that agreement. We’re also paying for the Convention Center. And until they rename these the Minneapolis Vikings, the city of Minneapolis cannot and should not, be paying for it.

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Todd Klingel
President and CEO, Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce

The Journal: What is your position on a new Vikings stadium?

Klingel: The Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce believes it is critical to keep professional football in Minnesota. Our purpose is to grow jobs in this region. Recently, U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis and Ecolab CEO Doug Baker spoke out on the importance of keeping the team. They know that our region’s future success demands a community that can recruit and retain the best possible employees. Today, people can choose to work anywhere in the world. Attracting the best and brightest to this region requires Minneapolis and St. Paul to appeal to a variety of interests. Professional sports is an important part of who we are. The international attention pro sports receives enhances the perception of this great community.

That’s why the Chamber took an instrumental role in lobbying for a new Twins stadium and we will do the same for the Vikings. Funding should come from three sources, the state of Minnesota, a local public partner and the team/NFL. Remember, while the Vikings are the primary tenant, many other organizations currently use the Metrodome and will be part of any new facility as well.

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Sam Grabarski
President and CEO, Downtown Council


Journal: Mondale has been saying that 10 percent of Downtown’s hotel occupancy can be directly tied to the Metrodome. Is that accurate?

Grabarski: Ted Mondale is accurate that the Metrodome serves economic purposes that spread well beyond the Vikings games. A steady schedule of high school and college games and tournaments occur there, bringing athletes, fans and families to Downtown’s hotels. That fact is well known to the hotels, and explains why the area’s hotel community is willing to see a small hotels tax used — if fairly applied — to the mix of revenue streams it will take to build another more modern and expansive version of the Metrodome in the same location.

I briefed Ted Mondale on this recently, and told him the impact a deflated roof on the Metrodome would have on the hotels if it were not repaired or replaced soon. I speculated the Metrodome-related business was a significant percentage of business for the hotels, but said we should ask the hotels formally for an accurate percentage. I think the percentage is closer to 5 percent than 10, but we both could be right.


What’s at stake for the Downtown business community should the team leave  Downtown?  Are there any worst-case-scenario discussions happening at the Council?

The impact on the Vikings leaving Downtown, were that to happen, would be greatest if the team left Minnesota. We’d lose at least one large jewel from our “major league city” status. Losing the team to a suburban location would have an impact, with the potential bankruptcy of the Metrodome topping the effects. The Vikings are the one remaining large tenant that pays rent there, and the amount is far more than relative number would be on operations if they only paid for days played there. I know I have the number in my files, but I want to say they pay for as much as half of the annual operating costs of the building. If they left the facility, it would go bankrupt. It would be doubtful that the City of Minneapolis would pick up the subsidy, because it would be several million dollars a year, and there would be no conventions or festivals that would rent the place often enough to replace that lost revenue.

In the end, the future of the Metrodome is secure if replaced as the ongoing home for events and the Vikings, and bleak if it has no large tenant.

Sarah McKenzie and Nick Halter contributed to this report.