Minneapolis' renovation of Target Center, one of the most controversial facets of the Vikings stadium bill that passed the Legislature this summer, keeps getting cheaper.
The city and private stakeholders are planning to embark on a major overhaul of the 22-year-old building, made possible by stadium legislation that also provided the means to pay down debt on the facility.
When officials announced the plan in 2011, the cost was $150 million. When the Target Center "implementation committee" was formed this August, the cost was pegged at $135 million. But at the first meeting of that committee Thursday night, city officials said the working cost is now $100 million.
The city can use the difference to fund many other things, from capital projects to economic development. So what's going on?
First, a quick recap of how we got here:
- The stadium bill extended several city sales taxes, which did not previously have a sunset date, until 2045. Those taxes currently pay for the convention center, but extra money is available when debt on the convention center is paid in 2020. The excess will pay for the city's share of the Vikings stadium, as well as debt and renovations on the Target Center.
- The bill bypassed the city's charter requirement to hold a referendum on stadium financing of more than $10 million, meaning the public won't vote on Target Center improvements.
- It also gave the city additional flexibility surrounding the use of its sales tax dollars. Rybak believed that was necessary for Target Center improvements, but Rep. Diane Loeffler noted the city already had this ability under a statute she authored in 2009.
The explanations for the declining cost were fairly vague after the implementation committee meeting Thursday night. The city's lead staffer on the project, Jeremy Hanson Willis, said they are merely taking a better look at their options. Initial estimates pegged the cost for redoing the "skin" of the building at $25 million, for example.
"We thought, 'Well maybe we don’t need to spend $25 million just on the skin,'" Hanson Willis said. "And so we’ve been having this sort of ongoing process to say what other options do we have to do things as [inexpensively] as possible. And frankly, we’re trying to get the biggest bang for our buck.”
The renovation cost is expected to be split about evenly between the city and private tenants, such as the Timberwolves. The negotiations about exactly how that deal will work are ongoing.
Ted Johnson, a senior vice president at the Timberwolves, said they are in process of "sharpening our pencils."
"I don’t think anyone was interested in negotiating to a number that you may not need to get to," Johnson said.
When asked about the cost during Thursday's meeting, Rybak called $100 million "a pretty good working number."
“The $150 million number was a very general, quick thing that was really -- I don’t think we ever intended that to be a final or embedded number," Rybak said.
As for the other money, it's unclear where it might go. As Hanson Willis noted, "They're pretty flexible dollars."