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file, Artist's rendering of new stadium

DOWNTOWN OPTIONS

"The existing [Metrodome] site maximizes the sizable taxpayer investments that have already been made and has the most to offer in terms of transportation and transit options for fans.''

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. RYBAK and City Council President BARBARA JOHNSON, in a Feb. 14 letter to Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders

Editorial: A 'people's stadium' in heart of Minneapolis

  • February 19, 2011 - 7:07 PM

Star Tribune

One recurring theme in professional-sports-stadium debates is that team owners call the shots while taxpayers end up on the hook for the majority of the costs.

Try to come up with another business in which the group making the largest investment in an asset -- in this example, taxpayers funding a stadium -- have so little say in key decisions.

The Minnesota Vikings stadium debate is following that familiar but unacceptable course.

To date, the team has said it would be willing to pay roughly a third of the cost of a $700 million open-air facility.

Vikings officials have said for years that they're open to any number of locations, but this week the team apparently got more serious in its flirtation with an unlikely and unfunded suburban possibility -- the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site in Arden Hills.

We have a strong hunch that the team's dance with the Ramsey County Board is little more than an effort to gain leverage. Sports franchises routinely play locations off against one another, maneuvering to get the best deal with the least private investment.

Which raises the question: Why should the Vikings be driving this process?

There have been signs of more rational thinking.

The appointment of Ted Mondale to head the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission was a master stroke by Gov. Mark Dayton. Dayton knows that Mondale gives the state its best opportunity to cut through the typical nonsense that surrounds stadium discussions and broker a proposal that would meet the governor's vision for a "people's stadium."

This page has long argued that the Vikings are a valuable state asset and that a public-private solution to funding a modern stadium that would ensure the long-term success of the team and generate economic benefits for the region is in the best interests of all Minnesotans.

And clearly the greatest economic benefit -- likely with the lowest upfront costs -- would come from a stadium built in downtown Minneapolis -- not in Arden Hills, Brooklyn Park or any other suburban location.

Vibrant downtowns are critical to the economic future of the Twin Cities and the entire state. Great city centers attract and retain Fortune 500 companies, highly recruited skilled professionals, and essential convention and travel business.

American cities that neglect the lessons of strategic urban planning miss out on opportunities for high-impact economic development.

Downtown St. Paul is much healthier today than it was before the Xcel Energy Center opened. And thanks to Hennepin County taxpayers and the Pohlad family, Target Field became one of the Upper Midwest's most important attractions last year, fueling new tax revenue for the city even in difficult economic times.

A new home for the Vikings -- built as a multipurpose, roofed stadium that can host events ranging from college baseball tournaments to the Hmong American New Year celebration to the Final Four and the Super Bowl -- would have similar impact, but not if it's built miles from hotels, restaurants and transit hubs.

Two downtown Minneapolis locations are under consideration: the North Loop area near Target Field and the Metrodome site.

And last week Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson made their case for the Dome location in a letter to the governor and legislative leaders, arguing that property acquisition and infrastructure improvements in the North Loop would total more than $200 million, compared with $50 million for the Dome site.

(Disclosure: The Star Tribune owns property near the Metrodome, and its value is likely to be affected by any change in the stadium's status, most significantly if the newspaper's land ends up being part of a larger stadium development plan around the Dome.)

Rybak and Johnson deserve credit for kicking off the public discussion on the pros and cons of the two Minneapolis locations.

City taxpayers financed some of the infrastructure costs when the Dome was built 30 years ago, and city officials should have a seat at the negotiating table along with the Vikings, Ramsey County officials, the governor and legislative leaders.

Both downtown Minneapolis sites have strengths and weaknesses. Building a stadium in the North Loop would create an entertainment hub with the football stadium, Target Field and Target Center, but the upfront costs cited by Rybak and Johnson are a significant hurdle.

The Dome location is ready-made for a new stadium that could create a "barbell'' downtown development effect, with the Warehouse District on one end connected by the Hiawatha light-rail line to the football stadium.

But three decades later Minnesotans are still waiting for the development the Metrodome was supposed to spark on its end of downtown.

Location is not the only stadium issue in flux. No clear financing package has surfaced, although there's been speculation about a metrowide or statewide entertainment tax as well as expanded gaming in the state.

And with the Vikings lease at the Metrodome expiring at the end of the 2011 season, there's pressure to come up with a solution before the Legislature's scheduled adjournment in May.

The public's new quarterback is Mondale, whose experience as head of the Metropolitan Council and as a state legislator -- in addition to his friendship with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell -- should give Minnesotans hope that a true "people's stadium'' will emerge.

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