Op-ed: We lose big if stadium deal doesn't get done soon

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April 9, 2012 // UPDATED 11:04 am - April 11, 2012
By: Sam Grabarski
Sam Grabarski

In TV land, the Biggest Loser will bring home a cash prize, bragging rights and a healthier lease on life. In Minneapolis, the Biggest Loser will kiss hundreds of millions of dollars goodbye every year, and risk seeing another city’s skyline on the television screen during “Monday Night Football.”

The Minnesota Legislature asked for a public stadium proposal that made the Minnesota Vikings fund over half of the facility’s construction and operating costs, and didn’t raise any new or existing taxes. The Minneapolis plan goes a step further, requiring the publicly owned facility to be available for various public uses for at least 300 days out of the year. Having delivered what was required, business and labor leaders in Minneapolis are scratching their heads wondering why legislative leaders seem so reluctant to vote the Minneapolis plan up or down before adjourning for the year.

What’s at stake if Minneapolis becomes “The Biggest Loser?” Organizers of some of the biggest events that Minneapolis has ever hosted have told local business and community leaders that they will not return unless a modern facility is built. The Metrodome simply isn’t equipped to host the big events anymore. The list of lost opportunities starts with the NFL Super Bowl, which contributes $250 million to its local host economy each year. The list includes the NCAA Wrestling Championships, Special Olympics USA Games and the NCAA Final Four. Three of Minneapolis’ largest-ever conventions also will not return – Seventh Day Adventist, Alcoholics Anonymous International and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Civic leaders see real evidence that by doing nothing about the Metrodome, a truly second-class facility in the events world, Minneapolis stands to lose over $500 million annually in lost opportunities. We also face a darker economic future if, for some reason, the other events at the Metrodome stopped entirely. So many Vikings fans live outside Minnesota that losing their business would really hurt. The major parking services say Vikings fans, including thousands without actual tickets to the games, pay $2.2 million annually for a downtown spot during ten home football games. State and local governments receive $12 million each year in direct income taxes, sales taxes and stadium admissions taxes. Spending at hotels, retailers, bars and restaurants directly related to Vikings home games brings in nearly $35 million. In fact, the Greater Minneapolis Hotels Association members tell us that many large hotels as far away as Edina see up to 10 percent of their annual income from the impressive roster of high school and college events held annually at the Metrodome.

If you are in that snobby group of economists who claim there is no such thing as “economic impact,” that people not spending their cash at the Metrodome will spend it someplace else, I invite you to join the real world of hospitality workers in Minneapolis. There’s no local replacement for a 15,000-delegate national convention that passes us by. Minneapolis residents don’t fill 1.7 million hotel room nights annually, but visitors do. In fact, visitors sustain downtown’s retail stores more so than local residents.

The Minneapolis brand offers the arts, culture, nature, sports, religion, tolerance, fitness, transit, education, ingenuity, clean water and more. We cannot do without anything on that list. The more we see how these assets all fit together, the more competitive we’ll be as a community for the decades to come. And, no matter what turns you on about life in Minnesota, as a group we are not better off with a second-class Metrodome, and a struggling NFL franchise needing a modern facility to sustain itself in Minnesota.

So here we are. Days away from a deal — or no deal. The Mayor of Minneapolis, the City Council President and a majority of Minneapolis Council Members have stepped up to support the Minneapolis stadium proposal. Let’s hope our state’s legislative representatives do the same. We all lose BIG if nothing gets done soon at the State Capitol.

Sam Grabarski is the head of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and a member of Home Field Advantage, a consortium of leaders in Minneapolis who advocate for public sports and entertainment venues in the city’s central business district. Created in 2004 by the Minneapolis Downtown Council, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and Meet Minneapolis, the organization is composed of business leaders, city officials, sports executives, labor leaders, financial consultants, building-design professionals and developers. Currently, Home Field Advantage is focused on the proposal to build a new downtown Minneapolis stadium to serve as both the home for the Minnesota Vikings and as a major venue for other events throughout the year.