The Minnesota Vikings have increased their stadium contribution by $49 million since last fall, including a $20 million cash infusion that covers a funding gap in construction of the $1 billion project on the former Metrodome site.
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) unanimously approved the budget changes Friday after lavishly praising the Vikings for upping their portion of the tab for the downtown Minneapolis stadium.
The budget change wasn’t entirely unexpected, because the MSFA initially was working with preliminary designs. Now all the planning flourishes are final. They include air ducts on the uppermost levels and beverage conduits to keep the beer pipeline fresh and flowing.
“Our goal has always been to have the best gameday experience,” Vikings Chief Financial Officer Steve Poppen told MSFA members before the vote. He added that Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf insist that “what was unveiled in 2013 is what opens in 2016.”
The Wilfs tapped a contingency fund of $26 million. The $49 million also includes a previously announced $2.5 million for bigger videos, TV walls and escalators. The remaining $19 million is Wilf cash, bringing the project’s total budget to $1.023 billion and the team’s share to $526 million.
The taxpayer contribution is unchanged, with the state paying $348 million and the city of Minneapolis $150 million.
MSFA Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen and others called the contribution boost a solid step forward for the massive project started last winter. The new stadium is expected to open for the 2016 NFL season.
Just as the exterior is taking shape, so is the operational aspect. After months of closed-door negotiations with three suitors, Philadelphia-based SMG was named as the operator of the new stadium. The others in contention were Global Spectrum and AEG, which manages Target Center. The high-level competition for the contract illustrates the quality of the facility, Kelm-Helgen said.
Doug Thornton, SMG vice president, gave the commissioners a brief, upbeat presentation about the company’s experience with big events — like a 21-day livestock show and rodeo in Houston’s NRG Park, ice shows, NHL hockey and programming in the park adjacent to Chicago’s Soldier Field. The Houston stadium will play host to the 2017 Super Bowl, a year before the game comes to Minneapolis. Thornton said the company intends to “get out on the road and promote this facility nationally so that when we open we have a full” schedule of events.
Kelm-Helgen pointed out that the Vikings play 10 home games, so “the other 350 days are available.”
After SMG pays the MSFA its guaranteed $6.75 million, the company takes the next $500,000. The next $1 million is evenly split. Above that, the MSFA receives 75 percent of the revenue to 25 percent for SMG, Kelm-Helgen said.
By the time the stadium opens, the MSFA will have almost no cash, Kelm-Helgen said. Right now, it has $21 million in an already budgeted contingency fund. She expects that to be used for construction costs.
Nothing for the birds
Like everything else the Vikings come near, the move was not without controversy, because the increased budget included no money for fritted glass to help birds avoid deadly collisions with the structure as they migrate along the nearby Mississippi River corridor.
Kelm-Helgen said the glass sought by the Audubon Society would detract from the new facility’s defining feature — the airy openness provided by clear glass. “It’s not a cost issue, it’s a design issue,” she said.
Bird-friendlier fritted glass would turn the light in the stadium “murky,” she said. The MSFA has agreed to keep the lights off to help birds avoid the glass in the fall and spring.
Claiming the safer glass would cost $1 million, the Audubon Society called the lack of accommodation for birds a “slap in the face.”
Instead, the new money won’t go toward any signature feature of the stadium, but rather to what Mortenson construction senior vice president John Wood called “literally hundreds of hundreds” of items, including five huge pivoting glass doors, elevators, escalators and acoustics.