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In July, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak spoke at a news conference about a proposed Vikings stadium plan and Target Center renovation. L to R behind him are Sam Grabarski, president and CEO Minneapolis Downtown Council, Bill McCarthy, president Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, city council president Barbara Johnson and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.

Glen Stubbe, Dml - Star Tribune

On stadium issue, an odd silence from downtown

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT
  • Star Tribune
  • October 22, 2011 - 6:43 PM

Next month, the Minneapolis Downtown Council will release a formal plan detailing its latest thinking about how its territory ought to evolve between now and 2025.

Informed sources say that the business group's plan will include a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, located in a "sports district" on downtown's west side. Adding a professional football facility near Target Field, Target Center and fan amenities is one of the plan's 10 goals for downtown betterment.

Knowing that bizfolk so highly prize a downtown stadium has made me a puzzled listener to the stadium debate this fall. Remembering how business leaders came to downtown's aid a generation ago, when the Metrodome might have been built in Bloomington instead of Minneapolis, adds to my puzzlement.

Why are downtown boosters so quiet?

The Vikings owners want their new digs built in Arden Hills -- presumably because it would also be a lucrative spot for their chief enterprise, shopping-center development. Some -- but not all -- members of the Ramsey County Board are happy to accommodate them, and are willing to nick consumers with an extra sales tax to make it happen.

That much has been known for a good half-year. What hasn't been clear is whether Minneapolis interests will put a united and compelling counterproposal on the table.

Or whether business leaders will go public with the case for aggregating large public facilities in the heart of the region, where roads, transit, sewers, a dense population and the synergy to create a desirable destination are already in place.

That ought to be an easy argument to make at a time when public resources aren't exactly flush, and when cities compete for young talent by touting the quality of big-city life.

Yet "the business community feels it's important to fully vet the Arden Hills site," Downtown Council CEO Sam Grabarski graciously allowed when I asked. "It's only fair to the Vikings to make sure that proposal has every chance to be understood."

I recalled that magnanimity toward downtown's rivals was not a hallmark of the city's stadium strategy in 1979.

"Let there be no doubt: We prefer that the location be downtown," Grabarski said. "We are not sitting silently. We are continuing to be ready, if and when the team, the governor and the Legislature are ready to consider a Minneapolis site."

The same message came from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. He came to the Capitol in May with a plan for a new stadium on the Metrodome site that also would refinance and upgrade Target Center. It fell flat with the Vikings' owners. Rybak has been uncharacteristically quiet since.

But Hizzoner sounded like a fellow who's itching to wade back into the fray. "I'm working hard and I'm absolutely ready with Plan B, C, D or E -- whatever it takes!" he said.

Among the questions for Rybak has to be, ready for whom? The mayor plans to meet with Gov. Mark Dayton about the issue this week, presumably to make the case that a Minneapolis location fills Dayton's personal bill for a "people's stadium."

But it's not clear that the governor, or any elected official, is truly in the driver's seat on stadium siting. So far, it has appeared that the team is.

That's troubling. The investment of upwards of $600 million in public money is at stake, in a publicly owned facility whose location will affect many of the region's residents in ways great and small. The public interest ought to carry more weight.

That's why I perked up when the developers promoting a Farmers Market stadium site urged the creation of a more robust regional governance structure for large sports, entertainment and exhibition facilities. They call their proposed new governing body the Metropolitan Entertainment Commission, or MEC.

A MEC would handle facility siting questions and a whole lot more. It would be commissioned to manage big public assets with an eye to maximizing their public good, and would be held accountable for doing so.

Its charge would include making the most of existing public investments and avoiding unnecessary duplication. Combatting urban blight, discouraging auto use, providing jobs to the needy, adding public art and greenery, and creating safe and appealing public spaces would also be its duty.

If Minnesota had a MEC, my guess is that it would have long ago advised the Wilfs that their desire to build a suburban shopping center does not trump this region's desire to capitalize on existing investments and preserve vitality in the urban core.

Without a MEC, it's not clear who can or will deliver that message with enough clout to make it stick.

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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