Minneapolis City Council members have a rare opportunity to make history by having the civic-minded fortitude to back a nearly $1 billion public-private investment that can pay dividends for the city and state for decades to come.
Without a clear signal that a majority of the 13-member council supports the current Vikings stadium proposal, however, opponents and fence-sitters at the Legislature will have the perfect excuse to ignore the politically sensitive issue during this election-year session.
Gov. Mark Dayton no doubt made that point when he met privately Monday with Council Members Kevin Reich and Sandra Colvin Roy, whose support could make the difference at City Hall and at the Capitol. We trust that Dayton also emphasized that the stadium deal now on the table includes the following benefits for the city:
To fund its $150 million initial contribution, the city would use some of the existing sales and hospitality tax revenue that currently funds the Minneapolis Convention Center, while redirecting some of that revenue for economic development, including renovation and debt payment on the city-owned Target Center. The arena has become a financial drain for city taxpayers, and this plan, by covering the $5 million a year needed to pay off the facility's debt, offers a chance for much-needed property tax relief.
City Council members concerned about political fallout need to cut through the often inaccurate antistadium rhetoric and educate their constituents. The city's contribution to the stadium is a no-new-taxes approach that actually would result in property tax relief.
Noting that the Convention Center taxes were authorized by the Legislature, GOP legislators have threatened to end them after the center's bonds are paid off in 2020. Legislation to fund the Vikings stadium would allow Minneapolis to maintain those taxes for another 25 years. The worst-case scenario for the city would be an empty Metrodome and ongoing debt woes for Target Center.
By committing to cover $150 million in construction costs, the city will do its part to secure a downtown Minneapolis investment of $427 million from the Vikings and $398 million from the state. (In addition, the team would pay $327 million in operating costs, while the city would cover another $189 million over 30 years.)
The City Council can make a strategic investment in the 65,000-square-foot stadium -- much like the Hennepin County Board did with Target Field and the Warehouse District -- and give new life to the east end of a downtown that serves as the region's most important economic engine. Plans call for a large public plaza, a block for tailgating and other amenities -- all closely tied to the expanding light-rail system. With thoughtful urban planning and additional private investment, the new facility can do for Minneapolis what Lucas Oil Stadium has done for Indianapolis.
(Disclosure: The stadium site plan includes a block owned by the Star Tribune, and the value of other property owned by the newspaper near the Metrodome is likely to increase if the project is approved.)
If they turn their backs on the Vikings, the City Council will need to answer to constituents who are desperate to fill some of the 13,000 construction and service-sector jobs that would pay an estimated $300 million in wages over the next four years. Beyond those benefits, business leaders are quick to point out that major-league sports help them recruit top talent to the Twin Cities.
Securing the Vikings
City Council members should not be asked to defend the economics of professional sports. The unfortunate reality is that public subsidies are almost always the price of admission for cities that want to attract or retain major-league teams. To its credit, the Wilf family has refrained from threatening to move the team, and the NFL clearly wants the franchise in this market. But after nearly a decade of lobbying -- and countless pledges from public officials that they would work with the team to secure its future -- time is running out.
By moving quickly to join forces with Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barb Johnson, council members would remove a key obstacle to the project at the State Capitol and put the pressure back on the Legislature before it's too late.
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