Five years after the Minnesota Twins won approval for a controversial new stadium subsidized with public money, the plan to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium is being portrayed as a similar undertaking.
But the proposal by the Vikings and Ramsey County to join with the state in building a $1 billion stadium at Arden Hills has striking differences -- many giving the Vikings more benefits than the Twins received.
Those differences may become important in coming days, as Gov. Mark Dayton ramps up his message that the Vikings have too much control in the deal they now want the state to help subsidize. The Vikings have pointed out that negotiations are still in progress.
Under their proposal with Ramsey County, the Vikings would get the first $41 million of any project savings for the 65,000-seat stadium in Arden Hills. The Twins' Target Field in downtown Minneapolis had no such provision. The Vikings would not have to make their financial statements available to a public board that would own the facility. The Twins were required to do so. The Vikings stadium would require an annual $1.5 million public operating subsidy from the county. The Twins stadium that opened a year ago does not.
If the Vikings' owners were to sell the team, the public would get a percentage of the sale's gross profit. If the Twins' owners sell that team, the public gets a percentage of the gross sale price -- a significant difference.
"That's an issue we need to pay attention to," said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, chief House author of the Vikings stadium legislation.
With just four days left before the Legislature adjourns, state, county and team officials are rushing to provide detail on a week-old preliminary agreement between the Vikings and Ramsey County and have said there could be major changes.
Dayton criticized the preliminary agreement as being "appealing to the Vikings," but possibly not in the best interests of Minnesotans given the team's level of autonomy. The governor, who questioned why Ramsey County agreed to the document, also sent a letter to the team Wednesday that said "just as the Minnesota Vikings require a return on your investment, the people of Minnesota do also."
Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president for stadium development and public affairs, said the team is open to negotiating changes to satisfy concerns. He said the proposal is not tilted financially toward the Vikings.
"There is no windfall here" for the team, Bagley said. "I think there was a ... misunderstanding that there was going to be some big windfall from operating the stadium."
The Twins stadium proposal, like the Vikings plan, relied heavily on public subsidies, was widely opposed in opinion polls and eliminated the requirement for a voter referendum. The $555 million baseball stadium included $195 million from the Twins, $350 million from Hennepin County -- largely through a countywide sales tax increase -- and $10 million from other sources.
The Vikings, in contrast, are contributing $407 million to the $1 billion project.
During construction of the stadium, the Vikings would have a high level of control.
Target Field is governed by a five-member Minnesota Ballpark Authority appointed by the governor, Hennepin County and Minneapolis city officials. An Arden Hills football stadium would be similarly governed by a stadium authority appointed by the governor, Ramsey County and Arden Hills officials. The Vikings agreement with Ramsey County said the authority "shall have powers and duties similar to those of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority."
Ted Mondale, Dayton's chief stadium negotiator, said there are noticeable differences in the legal power the two public bodies would have. The two authorities, he said, don't appear to be similar.
"The public has [to have] a strong role in the construction, design and operation of the facility," Mondale said. "From a first read of the Ramsey document ... there are some issues.
"The Vikings have said, 'We're open to talking,' so it's not like [they're saying] 'This is the only deal, we're pushing it through,'" he said.
Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, a lead county negotiator for the Arden Hills plan, said he was not "real familiar" with the powers of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority or the Target Field agreement but said the county's proposal was subject to more talks with the Vikings.
There is at least one possible major difference where the Vikings would have more responsibility -- the potential pollutants in the soil of a property that was a former munitions plant and the state's largest Superfund site.
While the ballpark authority was responsible for soil remediation at Target Field, the Vikings would have to pay to remediate the soil in Arden Hills should it have to meet a more stringent level than a commercial and industrial standard.
We said "we would make sure the site was buildable," said Dan Kenney, executive director of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority.
The preliminary Vikings agreement has other differences that separate it from Target Field and make it more lucrative for the team.
The Target Field ballpark authority is not involved with personal seat licensing. The football stadium authority, by contrast, would own the right to sell personal seat licenses for the stadium. Up to $125 million of that revenue could be captured by the Vikings and would go toward their $407 million contribution to the project.
While part of the Twins' $900,000-a-year contribution to a Target Field reserve fund rises with inflation, the Vikings' $1 million yearly contribution to a reserve fund would not.
"I told them we have some concerns about those details," Lanning said, referring to Ramsey County and the Vikings. "I expressed some concerns [over] the relationship between the team and the authority."
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673