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The Metrodome and the Minneapolis skyline

Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

Minneapolis has what Vikings want, except money

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE
  • Star Tribune
  • February 28, 2011 - 7:54 AM

Minneapolis has the infrastructure, the transit links, the demonstrable success of Target Field, and encompasses most of the sites the Vikings are known to be considering for a new stadium.

But the city's quest to have that stadium built on its turf still appears to lack what it most needs -- money.

That issue is increasingly crucial as stadium sites in and outside of Minneapolis are considered and the debate about financing gains momentum at the Capitol.

City taxpayers already keep the troubled Target Center afloat, help pay the freight at Target Field and sustain the region's largest convention center, Mayor R.T. Rybak said.

"Minneapolis is not in the financial position to make this happen, especially considering what we've put into these other facilities," he said. The city that launched the Metrodome 30 years ago with a hospitality tax can't take the lead in stadium financing this time, he said.

In recent weeks, however, moves by political and business leaders have morphed the city from a backdrop in the stadium drama to a more active role.

"I'm willing to help and be open to lots of ideas,'' Rybak added. "I want the Vikings to stay, and we think the stadium would do well in Minneapolis.''

A new stadium in Minneapolis could cost between $700 million and $900 million, depending on whether it has a roof. The Vikings say they will pay for a third of a roofless stadium.

The notion of diverting the city's convention center tax to the stadium is a non-starter, Rybak said. Another dead end is the additional $4.8 million the city got last year from Twins ticket taxes; Rybak said that revenue was chewed up by the cost of providing traffic control for the ballpark.

Instead, he said, the city's main contribution to a new stadium is already in hand: the infrastructure and amenities offered around the Dome that public funding has built over several years.

Stadium buzz builds

Until recently, political and business leaders publicly offered little to the Vikings beyond encouraging words. None of the city's 17 legislators, all DFLers in Republican-led chambers, has taken a public role in the stadium debate. The city is wrestling with budget issues in the wake of state aid cuts that have jacked up property taxes.

But in recent days, Rybak met with Vikings officials to underscore the city's interest, asked the NFL to settle its labor dispute and, with City Council President Barb Johnson, urged state leaders to locate a new stadium where the Dome sits.

Last week Ted Mondale, new chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, said the team is looking at not one but two sites in the Dome vicinity. The city's downtown business leaders have retooled their successful Target Field campaign into a stadium effort that's helping the Vikings sort out options.

Those moves come as political support has emerged in Ramsey County for looking hard at building a new stadium in Arden Hills, on the site of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant. While concerns remain about clean-up costs at the site, they haven't stopped talk of a possible sales tax to help pay for a stadium.

Not the Minneapolis Vikings

According to a recent study done for the city by a commercial real estate firm, the Dome site would need up to $74 million in improvements to get it ready for a new stadium. That's up to $158 million cheaper than the other possible Minneapolis site, the area west of Target Field. That site could cost up to $232 million to buy and improve the property -- and it does not include the cost of relocating tenants.

The Dome never did spin off much development around it. But Rybak said that times are different now -- that with two light-rail lines alongside it and the nearby riverfront district flourishing, a new stadium on the Dome site could be the catalyst needed to ignite development connecting the University of Minnesota's West Bank campus with downtown.

As for new financing, Rybak and many City Council members believe a new stadium should be paid for with a statewide or regional sales tax that would spread out the cost among Vikings fans both in and outside the city.

"We don't call the team the Minneapolis Vikings. They're called the Minnesota Vikings, and any solution has to be statewide," said Council Member Lisa Goodman, whose downtown ward includes Target Field and the Metrodome.

Sam Grabarski, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said the council has an open mind on paying for a stadium. One method that's already been endorsed by business groups is a local or regional hospitality tax, he said, as long as it's not too large.

Grabarski said a recent survey showed that 7 to 10 percent of business at downtown and nearby suburban hotels was generated by Dome events, including Vikings games.

Global solution

A study done two years ago for the stadium commission found that Minneapolis has borne the lion's share of the financing burden for pro sports facilities since 1961. Of $191 million in public money spent on arenas for the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves and Wild, $85 million, or 44.5 percent, came from Minneapolis. The state spent $53.9 million, or 28.2 percent.

Yet from 1961 to 2009, the state collected $428.6 million of the total tax revenue from pro sports, while Minneapolis received $27.8 million.

Beyond what a new stadium would require, many Minneapolis leaders want a "global solution" to put the Twin Cities' myriad sports palaces under a regional authority to coordinate events and guarantee a broad-based revenue stream for upkeep and operations. It's an idea that Mondale has talked about, and one that would benefit Minneapolis with its multiple arenas.

"There needs to be at least a metro-wide facilities commission that eliminates some of the competition we have between some of the facilities and puts people on a level playing field," Johnson said.

The problem of competition among different sports venues is such a problem that Rybak suggests building a roofless stadium so that it couldn't compete with current arenas. The money saved by leaving off the roof, he said, could be spent on improvements at Target Center and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Which Minneapolis site?

When it comes to sites, Grabarski said that the Downtown Council supports both the Dome and Target Field areas. He was enthused about prospects for the latter, where he said a trio of sports venues (including Target Center) could spin off new parks, plazas and shops.

"But we're not wedded to any one site," he said.

Goodman said she would support a new stadium only on the Dome site and paid for with a statewide funding source. She also would support a downtown casino as part of the package.

Still, given the demands on the city and its limited choices, she remains ambivalent.

"Professional sports are good for cities," she said. "There's the unquantifiable pat-on-the-back we all feel, knowing we're a four-sport town. But I'd rather have that for the best higher education, or the most children graduating from high school, or having more people housed. You can quantify that."

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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