Few topics have inspired such long-winded and acrimonious debates about our state’s values and our future than those involving public financing of new stadiums for major-league sports franchises. This year, after nearly a decade of ferocious argument, work is finally set to begin on a stadium to replace the sagging Metrodome.
So perhaps it should be no surprise that the unveiling of the designs for new $975 million Vikings stadium should be pure theater, literally. On Monday, in prime time, the team and stadium authority officials will reveal the new look during a presentation at the Guthrie Theater. Tickets are required for admission. “I don’t remember anything like this with the Twins,” said reporter Richard Meryhew, who will cover the event. “This fan base is really passionate.”
With such public drama — and millions of public dollars at stake — we are investing some extra resources to cover the financing, development and eventual emergence of a new stadium on Minneapolis’ skyline. Jean Hopfensperger, who covers nonprofits for us, has been aggressively documenting the problems with electronic pulltab games as a financing mechanism. Meanwhile, Meryhew, a veteran reporter, has been dispatched to cover the big issues and big players involved in the actual construction.
His story today takes a look at one of the biggest questions curious readers and fans want answered: Will it or won’t it have a retractable roof? The answer seems to be that perhaps it will have a different intriguing feature, a massive sliding wall that would open to let in the air — and a view of the city — when the weather is lovely. We will find out on Monday.
For readers interested in following the development of the stadium, we have built a digital project where you can keep up with every aspect of the construction. On our website, you will find all breaking news related to the stadium, along with information about the architect and funding questions. We will have a new blog, The Build, and of course, lots of video, photos and graphics as this progresses. This is where you will find renderings of the stadium plan on Monday (in addition to the front page of our paper and website). Meryhew anticipates peak public interest on Monday; during groundbreaking, when the historic Metrodome comes down, and, of course, when the stadium starts to take shape.
However, our coverage isn’t intended to be just spectator sport, given the $498 million in public financing. Important public questions of accountability are at stake, and one should never forget that the Vikings are a big business. The investments in the stadium directly affect the bottom line of the team and its owners. In 2005, Wilf bought the team for $600 million. Forbes calculated in 2011 that the business had grown to $796 million. In the year after the stadium deal, it had jumped 22 percent — to $975 million.
Even after this plan is unveiled, there will be changes along the way. Meryhew will be watching whether the deal is done on budget, and will document construction costs as Mortenson Construction releases them. Right now, control of the project rests with the stadium authority, he points out. But at some point, the Vikings may decide they want to take control of the actual construction, as the Twins did. Should that happen, the Vikings would be on the hook for cost overruns.
In some ways, this coverage will unfold in slow motion, with groundbreaking expected by fall, the demolition of the Metrodome early in 2014, and an enclosed stadium taking shape sometime in 2015. “That’s when the real fun stuff starts,” Meryhew said. Follow this project with us through Monday’s design unveiling to the opening kickoff at http://www.startribune.com/stadium/.