The Peoples Stadium, but whats in it for the people?

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January 18, 2012
By: Avi Viswanathan & Ralph Wyman
Avi Viswanathan & Ralph Wyman

For years we’ve all been hearing about a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. In the current go-round, the first specific stadium proposal was released way back in 2007. Since then, we’re read about studies, heard proposals for financing it, and seen fancy drawings of several sites.   

But with all this talk, including a popular idea of a People’s Stadium, we’ve heard shockingly little about what the people are actually going to get out of this project.  

Yes, Minnesota will keep some of the revenue, and keep associated business like hotels and bars that rely on the Vikings. And yes, Minnesota will get to keep the heartache associated with rooting for the Vikings. But these are things we already have, and they contribute to a regional economic system that has one of the largest black/white unemployment disparities in the nation. We need the public investment we’re being asked for to create something new: opportunity and success for all.

We’ve been told that this stadium investment is needed to grow our economy and to keep moving forward, but it would be fruitless to make this commitment and yet continue to allow our racial disparities in employment to remain intact. The health of our communities and our regional economy is inextricably linked to our ability — or lack thereof — to increase opportunity and achieve greater equity.  

Well respected national research organization Policylink recently published findings that “public and private-sector leaders need to recognize that preparing the change in population for the needs of the modern economy is the key to our future and must make investments that allow all people to maximize their potential. … By building the capabilities of those who are furthest behind, America not only begins to solve its most serious challenges but also creates the conditions  that allow us all to flourish. … Equity and growth need each other more than ever.” Or as one of Minnesota’s own put it: we all do better when we all do better.

In the four years since that 2007 stadium plan, the regional black unemployment rate increased from 13.8 percent to a staggering rate of 20.7 percent by 2010.  That 6.9 percent jump is larger than the white unemployment rate itself, which currently sits at 5.75 percent.  The current unemployment rate for black Twin Cities residents is 3.6 times the rate for white Twin Citians. This statistics are according to the Economic Policy Institute, who also notes that a black resident is still three times more likely than a white resident to be unemployed even when both have reached the same level of education.

These numbers are unacceptable. Even more unacceptable would be spending hundreds of millions in public dollars without doing anything to address the unemployment disparity. HIRE Minnesota, a coalition working to end racial disparities in employment, calls on our elected leaders to agree to a significant, ongoing investment from the revenue generated for the lease of our stadium.

Mr. Wilf and his NFL team may enjoy the private revenues of operating the franchise, but our investment — our tax dollars — need to create a return that generates meaningful job training and placement programs. Ten percent of stadium revenue must come back to our communities in effective, accountable programs so that people who are in need can get to work.

We acknowledge that the City of Minneapolis is putting effort into eliminating disparities. The One Minneapolis initiative and the STEP-UP program are both a solid start and important pieces of the puzzle. But the various Vikings Stadium proposals and the recent $2 billion development plan put out by the Minneapolis Downtown Council do nothing to address disparities and so highlight that we need a systemic and more integrated approach.

In order for our city and region to be healthy both now and in the long-term, equity — the fair and just inclusion into a society in which all can participate and prosper — is a necessary component of each and every development plan. We’re all being asked to invest in this stadium to create jobs and keep the Vikings. Let’s invest wisely, so that we all do better when the Vikings do better.
Avi Viswanathan is a HIRE Minnesota coalition organizer and Ralph Wyman is director/organizer for the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance (MUUSJA).