As a Vikings stadium bill awaits introduction in the Legislature, the idea was debated at the U.
State Sen. John Marty presented his case opposing public funding for a Viking stadium to the audience at Willey Hall at the University of Minnesota Wednesday night. Four veterans of the stadium wars were on hand for the debate.
A publicly financed Minnesota Vikings stadium: Boon or boondoggle?
The debate heard at kitchen tables and bar counters landed at the University of Minnesota this week, where four veterans of the stadium wars aired the pros and cons of spending public money on a new $900 million stadium for the Vikings.
The U debate team sponsored the faceoff, with Jeff Anderson and Cory Merrifield arguing that public financing is justified, and John Marty and Art Rolnick saying it's not. Anderson is assistant public affairs director for the Vikings and Merrifield is founder of SavetheVikes.org. Marty is a DFL state senator from Roseville, and Rolnick is a senior fellow at the U's Humphrey School of Public Affairs and former research director for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Anderson argued: This isn't just a stadium for the Vikings. It would be a public facility for year-round activities and large national events, and the team would help build it. The Vikings can't fund a new stadium in a market of this size, so the state and the team can help each other. The team knows that a stadium can't be the state's top priority, but it's important; intangibles are as important as economics, and a new stadium would secure the Vikings for the next generation of Minnesotans.
Marty replied: A new stadium would be good, but let's figure out how to finance it privately. State dollars are needed for more important things, such as schools and roads.
Marty argued: Recent polls, including a Star Tribune survey last fall, show that most Minnesotans oppose public funding for a new stadium. The Vikings are good for Minnesota, but it's not appropriate for government to subsidize private business. And it would be very expensive: a $45 taxpayer subsidy for every Vikings ticket sold in the next 30 years. Besides, owner Zygi Wilf told us in 2005 that the team would continue to play in Minnesota, even "if it's a Pop Warner field." Let's take him at his word.
Anderson replied: Polls also show that most Minnesotans think the state is a better place to live because of the Vikings.
Merrifield argued: Every year we delay building a new stadium, the price goes up another $50 million. The Vikings are the only team in the NFC's North division not to fix up its old stadium or build a new one, and the Metrodome can't be fixed. A new stadium could be funded one-third from the team, one-third from user fees and one-third from a new casino at Canterbury Park. Maybe the Wilfs won't move the team, but they might sell it to someone who could. The Vikings are a cultural asset for the entire state.
Rolnick replied: The question is how best to spend public dollars. As a public good, investment in early childhood education is a better bet than a stadium for a private business.
Rolnick argued: What the Vikings are doing is economic blackmail. If we believed the Vikings wouldn't move, we wouldn't be having this debate. The team does good things for the community, but so do many other local corporate giants; so who should get half a billion in public dollars? When government subsidizes private companies, we make them wealthy and undermine trust in public officials. If we go the subsidy route, the voters should decide in a referendum and not the politicians.
Anderson replied: We didn't have a referendum for the Xcel Energy Center or Target Field, and both of those facilities have been successful.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455