Mondale laments stadium glut

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 10, 2011 - 6:17 AM

The head of the sports facilities commission wants a broader approach to overseeing all the stadiums.

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Vikings: A new stadium.

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Gov. Mark Dayton's point man for shepherding a new Minnesota Vikings stadium wants to create an umbrella agency that would have jurisdiction over all professional sports arenas in the Twin Cities.

As a draft copy of legislation for a Vikings stadium is about to be circulated at the State Capitol, Ted Mondale, the new chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, said the Twin Cities area has built too many duplicative stadiums, all controlled by separate governing agencies.

"Everyone's thinking that if a bill goes through this year, that we definitely got to look at that," Mondale said.

As for the Vikings' current home, Mondale's sports commission will vote Thursday on a plan to restore the Metrodome's storm-damaged roof. It would cost up to $18 million to install a new roof.

Once that issue is resolved and the push for a new Vikings stadium takes center stage, a new commission with broader authority could have far-reaching implications: It could serve as a taxing authority and assume the debt of existing facilities -- such as Xcel Energy Center -- in exchange for governing them.

Just as importantly, it could end the city-vs.-city competition to build sports arenas in the Twin Cities metro area that led to Target Center in Minneapolis and Xcel Center in St. Paul. Such an agency, he said, could revolutionize the way stadiums and local arenas are built and financed.

In his most expansive comments since being appointed by the governor, Mondale said that too often in the past professional teams wanting stadiums have driven the debate, leading to inefficiencies and likely higher public costs.

"I think there's a pretty broad consensus that we, as a region, have not done well," he said.

The individual requests are piling up: St. Paul wants help retiring the Xcel Center's debt; the St. Paul Saints want money for a new ballpark; Target Center has asked for a $150 million face-lift and the Vikings want a new home that would cost at least $700 million.

"Would it be complicated? Yeah. Anything you do, it's always complicated," said Bill Huepenbecker, senior director of planning and public affairs for the St. Paul Arena Co., a subsidiary of the Minnesota Wild hockey team, which plays at the Xcel Center. "[But] if they're looking at a global solution, we want to be part of that discussion."

An array of public officials view the proposal with caution and skepticism, but some are already firmly on board.

"I think that's a good idea," said Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson. The city is struggling with a costly renovation plan for the aging and dowdy Target Center, which it owns. "You get to the point that these facilities compete against each other."

Hennepin County Board chair Mike Opat, who was instrumental in assembling a public subsidy package for Target Field, new home of the Minnesota Twins, was noncommittal. "Anything's theoretically possible," Opat said. "[If they] come up with something with some detail, at that point, we'll react."

The proposal is also gaining leverage as the Vikings seek -- unsuccessfully so far -- to find a local government partner that could provide a public subsidy revenue stream. Mondale said it is too early to decide whether a broader umbrella agency would have taxing authority or could assume the public debt of existing facilities, but the idea is being seen as a possible assist for the Vikings stadium.

"It is an important issue," said Lester Bagley, the Vikings' vice president for public affairs and stadium development, referring to a governing authority.

Target Field is run by the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, which was created in 2006 by the same bill that authorized the ballpark. The authority is a five-member board appointed by the governor, Hennepin County and Minneapolis. The county has two seats on the board and levies a county-wide sales tax that provides the bulk of the financing.

Last year's Vikings stadium plan, which was defeated in a House committee, would have created a separate, 13-member Minnesota Stadium Authority that could have raised taxes for the project. That authority would have replaced the sports facilities commission, which owns the Metrodome.

Ted Johnson, a senior vice president with the Minnesota Timberwolves, said a broader stadium agency would benefit the public. "The state Legislature over 18 years has faced a stadium or arena issue [every year], and could face it for another 20 years," he said, as existing stadiums need remodeling.

"I don't think that's so much [of] a leap," he said.

The proposal could prove hard to resist for cash-strapped local governments. Minneapolis still owes $57.5 million on Target Center. Two years ago, St. Paul tried to get the state to forgive its $48 million loan on the Xcel Center but failed.

David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said Mondale recently expressed his frustrations with the existing situation.

"You got the Saints coming, you got the Timberwolves lining up," Olson said. "I'm sure [Mondale's] just thinking, you know -- man."

Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this article. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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