Target Center a winner in Vikings stadium deal

City will now negotiate with the Timberwolves and other private interests over $135 million renovation of the 22-year-old building.

After the Minneapolis City Council gave final approval on Friday to funding a new Vikings stadium downtown, fans in face paint and Vikings shirts rushed into Mayor R.T. Rybak's office to serve him Grain Belt beer in a giant drinking horn.

Another professional sports team also had a reason to cheer: the Timberwolves.

The 7-6 vote cemented a plan years in the making to redirect at least $60 million in sales taxes toward renovations of the city-owned Target Center, home of the state's NBA team. The 22-year-old facility has struggled to compete with the younger Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and is viewed by many on the council as a costly boondoggle.

The deal also will cover the annual debt and operating obligations on the building, which altogether will free up money in the city's budget that can be used for property tax relief.

The city must now negotiate with the Timberwolves and others to determine their share of the arena's upgrades.

Friday's approval for a new home for the Vikings at the Metrodome site ends an arduous legislative process -- one in which Rybak used the city's struggles to fund Target Center as a bargaining chip to win support from reluctant council members.

"I feel in my gut a little bit like I imagine the Vikings feel after a win," Rybak said after the vote. "You're happy you won, but you've got to go sit in the hot tub and take care of the bruises for a little bit."

The total city subsidy will be about $309 million for construction and operations of the Viking stadium, or $678 million when accounting for interest over the life of the deal. The legislation provides the means to pay debt and renovate Target Center. The $135 million renovation is expected to be comprised of about $60 million to $70 million in redirected city sales tax dollars, with a private match. The exact cost and the public/private split must be negotiated.

Rybak said that "we want to meet immediately" with the private interests at Target Center to begin negotiations. Those parties include not just the Timberwolves but also operating company AEG and tenant LifeTime Fitness.

Council President Barbara Johnson said she and the mayor would meet next week to begin working out some of the details. She said she intends to have the Target Center implementation group corralled by the next regular council meeting in three weeks.

Timberwolves senior vice president Ted Johnson said that in contrast to the Vikings stadium agreement, "We're one step closer, but we're maybe only 80 percent of the way there."

He noted that the private interests still need to negotiate a term sheet with the city, which will have different variables than the Vikings because Target Center is an existing building. "We're only about a third of the events in the building, so we certainly are going to big part of that private share, but we're not going to be the only part," Johnson said.

In terms of renovations, he noted that some necessary changes are obvious. Bleachers must often be stored outside, he said, and one loading bay means 21-truck concerts face immense challenges unloading equipment.

He added: "From the team side, we're looking for fan amenities, things that fans have come to expect in their sporting facilities."

Johnson said fans will notice renovations to Target Center as soon as they happen. Their expected design and timeline will accommodate keeping the building open for all normal events, he said.

"In the case of the Vikings stadium, there will be a three-year wait and then you walk in the door and everything's done," Johnson said. "At Target Center, there will be a series of rollouts over the course of a year and a half in which fans will see new things, or have access to new things, as they come online."

Target Center was opened in 1990 under the Timberwolves, but the owners' financial troubles led the city to approve a controversial bailout and buy the arena in 1995 using about $80 million in bonds.

Today, Minneapolis owes about $55 million in Target Center debt, and some city leaders still criticize the decision to buy the arena.

In Friday's council discussion, a reprise of the preliminary vote on Thursday, Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents downtown, slammed the Vikings stadium deal as corporate welfare.

She said the Vikings subsidy is "like the purchase of the Target Center and the bad financial deal that came with it that we're having to work out as a result ... we'll be looking back on this in the future and wondering what went wrong."

But the deal offers the city tax relief and financial stability, said Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy, who provided the key swing vote to pass the measure.

In a tearful speech, Colvin Roy spoke of how after the city last year addressed its pension problems -- by merging the police and firefighters funds with the state pension system -- the next unfunded obligation was "what to do with the Target Center."

Several council members who voted against the Vikings deal said afterward that they supported the Target Center plan.

"The Target Center is a crucial facility in the city of Minneapolis ... I didn't support [the Vikings package] overall, but to the extent that good things can come out of it, I want to maximize those," said Council Member Betsy Hodges.

Rybak acknowledged that Target Center faces challenges, but he denied that money spent on it "is money down a rathole."

"We are going to do something there that should have been done a long time ago," the mayor said. "We're going to reinvest."

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

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