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Target Center deal headed for council approval

  • Article by: Eric Roper
  • Star Tribune
  • November 12, 2013 - 12:26 AM

A $100 million deal to renovate the aging, city-owned Target Center in downtown Minneapolis is poised to win overwhelming City Council approval this week.

That’s the takeaway from Friday’s committee of the whole meeting, in which only one council member raised objections to the plan. The final vote is scheduled for Tuesday’s full council meeting.

Announced last month, the deal involves the city issuing a $98 million general obligation bond, about half of which it would pay back with public dollars. The Timberwolves, which are extending their lease at the arena, would kick in another $43 million. The city is also on the hook for $50 million in ongoing capital improvements.

The biggest chunk of the money would pay for improvements to public spaces, such as the box office, skyways, bathrooms, concessions and seating areas. The renovation will also add a new shell on the building and upgrade technology.

The plan would be paid for using the same taxes that are obligated to the Vikings stadium. That includes a hotel tax, a citywide sales tax, and downtown liquor and restaurant taxes.

At Friday’s committee meeting, Council Member Cam Gordon said he had concerns about the cost burdens the renovation would put on the city, particularly given that the facility is a statewide asset. He noted that the city is also paying annual debt obligations on the facility.

“If it’s really a regional and a statewide asset, we should get that [funding] commitment to come in here,” Gordon said.

He added that the improvements won’t be put to a public vote — despite a charter requirement that the city hold referendums on major stadium improvements — because the Vikings stadium bill circumvented the city’s charter. “The fact that we now have special legislation circumventing our charter, I still have concerns about that,” Gordon said.

Council President Barb Johnson said while the city shoulders the burden for sports facilities, it also reaps the benefit in the form of extra sales tax income from those activities.

“I reject the idea that we will ever make the argument and have it sell at the state of Minnesota that we’re the poor sister here that needs the help,” Johnson said. “I sat on the local government aid task force. The mayor sat on another one. What do the folks tell you that are from Willmar? They say, ‘We wish we had this.’ ”

Johnson added: “I live in reality land. The thought that the Legislature and the state is ever going to come and say, ‘Oh you’re so wonderful for hosting all these facilities and, you know, we’re going to really help you along’? Dream on.”

Former City Council budget chair Paul Ostrow, now an Anoka County prosecutor, also raised objections to the plan in written comments.

“At least while I was on the council our position was that the Target Center was a statewide resource and any major renovation required financial support from the state,” he said, adding that the funds should be invested “in our neighborhoods that face the biggest needs and the biggest disparities in income.”

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

Twitter: @StribRoper

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