With the legislative battle now history, the first major step toward erecting a downtown Minneapolis stadium for the Minnesota Vikings came Thursday when Gov. Mark Dayton appointed one of his top aides to oversee development of the nearly $1 billion project.
Dayton named Michele Kelm-Helgen, his deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs, as chairwoman for the newly created five-member Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. The authority, which could meet publicly for the first time as early as next week, will work in step with the Vikings on nearly every phase of a massive construction project that promises to reshape the downtown skyline for decades.
It will replace the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which runs the Metrodome and will be phased out over the next few months.
The authority is the public's watchdog on one of the largest public construction projects in state history. It will help select a construction manager and architect and be involved in every major decision from where the stadium will stand on the 33-acre site to whether it will have a retractable roof.
Perhaps its most significant decision will be whether to oversee the stadium construction or have the team do it.
"I have no inkling of which way it will go on that," Kelm-Helgen said Thursday, just hours after she accepted the appointment. "There are definitely some options for how that will be done."
Kelm-Helgen, an ex-lobbyist and former Chanhassen school board member who served as chief of staff to state Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, will resign from Dayton's staff to accept the appointment.
She will be paid an annual salary to be determined by the authority. Ted Mondale, current chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, is paid $67,000 a year.
Joining Kelm-Helgen on the newly created authority are:
•John Griffith, 50, executive vice president of property development for Target Corp., who lobbied the Minneapolis City Council and state legislators in recent months in support of the stadium financing deal.
•Duane Benson, 66, a former NFL linebacker, state legislator and GOP Senate minority leader from Lanesboro, Minn., who served as executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership from 1994 to 2003. While there, Benson worked with Lester Bagley, who is now a Vikings vice president.
•Bill McCarthy, president of the AFL-CIO Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.
•Barbara Butts-Williams, 63, dean of the School of Education at Capella University, Minneapolis.
Kelm-Helgen, Griffith and Benson were appointed by Dayton. McCarthy and Butts-Williams were appointed by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Under the stadium legislation approved in May, they may be paid a stipend.
'Thrilled and daunted'
Kelm-Helgen, 57, said she was "surprised, thrilled and daunted" by the appointment.
She said that as of Thursday afternoon, she had yet to talk with the existing stadium commission staff or the Vikings about what comes next, but added "I'm sure we'll have a good, collaborative relationship."
She added: "I'm very committed to making sure the stadium is built within budget and on time and provides the kind of job opportunities for Minnesotans that we have been so excited about. We certainly want it to be a project that we are ever so proud of."
Several sources said that Dayton, who is on a trade mission to China this week, considered several other candidates for the chair position, including Pamela Wheelock, a former commissioner under Gov. Jesse Ventura, and a former St. Paul planning director who was the architect of the financial deal behind the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, home of the Minnesota Wild.
On Thursday, Wheelock was named the new vice president for university services at the University of Minnesota.
Mondale, Dayton's chief stadium negotiator, also was considered for the chair position.
Mondale was unavailable for comment Thursday. Several sources, however, said he may be in the running for a lead staff position with the new authority.
When asked about Mondale's status, Tina Smith, the governor's chief of staff, said the stadium authority would "make those decisions."
Prep work to take one year
The stadium, scheduled to open in time for the 2016 NFL season, will seat 65,000 people but could be expanded to accommodate 72,000 fans.
It will include 150 suites, 7,500 club seats and space for gift shops, restaurants and an NFL team museum and Hall of Fame.
Vikings executives, who met last week with the team's owners to begin advance work on the project, have said that it will take roughly one year for the design and prep work to be completed, followed by at least three years to build the stadium. An environmental impact study, along with negotiations to acquire nearby properties, also will begin in the first year.
The Vikings have an agreement with the University of Minnesota to play at least one season at TCF Bank Stadium while the Metrodome is razed to make way for the completion of the new stadium.
"It's a solid group; it's a no-nonsense group," the Vikings' Bagley said of the authority appointees. "It's a group that will be focused on getting the job done, which is good, because there's a lot of work to do and we're anxious to get busy."
Benson said the work ahead is formidable.
"There obviously is controversy around the notion of building the stadium that's going to remain," he said. "I think the heavy lifting on this is going to be monumental because there are just so many decisions. ... It's a little overwhelming but it's also very exciting."
Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425