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Target Center pitch faces tight fists

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • February 9, 2011 - 6:51 AM

The glitzy $150 million proposal to revamp Target Center recently created a buzz, but it'll be tough for proponents to make it fly anytime soon.

First, although civic promoters of the renovation signal that they plan to rely heavily on state financing, the $150 million request isn't even in the city's legislative program for 2011, which asks only for the same $6.5 million sought unsuccessfully last year for arena repairs.

Second, legislative leaders remain tightly focused on balancing the budget and addressing the state's economic climate, and they say other issues must wait.

Third, the Target Center proposal joins a growing line of sports proposals, mostly notably the Vikings' quest for aid with a new stadium and St. Paul's desire for help with a Saints ballpark. Some suggest legislators pursue an all-encompassing solution for such sports venues. But that would be more costly and could potentially slow approval.

Nevertheless, "I think there will be an effort to at least throw out the idea of a solution for all of these facilities," Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson said in an interview. "A broader solution has to be found."

She agrees with Mayor R.T. Rybak that the city has no more property tax to devote to the arena beyond that which it already spends. The city is committed to spending between $4 million and $8 million annually from property taxes between now and 2025 to retire the city-owned arena's debt.

That's atop the $1.1 million in property taxes the arena itself yields from private use of the building. The latter tax plus entertainment taxes collected there and parking profits attributed to the building already are committed to a 10-year, $50 million rehab program for the building.

The city is likely to argue to the state that it is tapped-out in supporting a facility that draws 70 percent of its attendance from outside the city. Boosters also will point to at least $120 million in sales, income and liquor taxes the state has reaped over 21 years in exchange for its original $7.5 million contribution to the building.

But the arena has had tough sledding at the State Capitol since that investment. A 2009 proposal that the state buy down the then-remaining $62 million on the building's general obligation bonds didn't pass. Neither did a much more modest request last year for $6.5 million in state bonding to renovate concourses and restrooms and improve basic arena systems.

Those plans got a boost last week when Gov. Mark Dayton recommended $8 million for the arena in his bonding bill, but that bill faces tight-fisted Republican majorities.

Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, said only emergency situations will be considered for bonding this year, and the assistant majority leader said that rules out considering the proposed Target Center renovation until at least 2012. Dayton's office seemed to put the ball in the Legislature's court.

"We have not had any conversations with Minneapolis civic leaders about this proposal yet," the governor's spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci, said by e-mail. "If funding this project is something the Legislature would like to bring up this year, we look forward to seeing their proposal."

Rybak said the state is right to put the budget and jobs first. "For now the most important thing is to lay out the need and start having conversations with people," he said.

One potential source the city could offer toward renovations is some of the $59 million in hospitality taxes it collects annually to pay off the Convention Center's bonds and cover its hefty operating losses. But those funds would potentially only be available once the building's debt is paid off, now scheduled for 2020. The city has been trying to fend off legislative interest in using that money for a Vikings stadium, arguing the convention center will need renovation.

The Vikings have pushed unsuccessfully for years to win taxpayer financing for a new stadium, Lester Bagley, a Vikings vice president, said the team will leave talk of an all-sports facility financing package to legislators. "We're focused on resolving our issue and moving that forward," he said.

Rybak planned to lobby legislators again this week on Target Center, efforts to fend off cuts in state aid to cities, and the city's pension issues.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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