A $9.65 million pedestrian bridge linking the new Vikings stadium to the Downtown East light-rail station was approved by the Metropolitan Council on Wednesday, but the controversial decision left some members of the regional planning body stewing.
“This is an unconscionable use of our limited transit capital,” said Met Council Member Jennifer Munt. Her council colleague Gail Dorfman agreed: “I can think of better uses for our public dollars than subsidizing the Vikings.”
The walkway will extend from the new $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium, stretch over the light-rail tracks and deposit pedestrians on a nearby public plaza. The idea is to create safe passage for thousands of fans leaving the venue — where an estimated 400 events are expected to occur annually.
“This is about safety,” said Council Member Edward Reynoso. “Safety isn’t optional, it’s paramount.”
After bids for the job came in higher than expected, due to labor and subcontractor shortages and a tight timeline, the Met Council retooled the terms of the deal with the Vikings.
Now, the council will pitch in $4 million for the bridge, with the team contributing up to $6 million. In exchange, 90 percent of the advertising revenue from the nearby Downtown East station will go toward repaying the Vikings’ initial contribution for a 30-year period, or until the $6 million contribution is repaid.
Annual advertising revenue from the station is estimated to be $310,000, and the Met Council will receive 10 percent.
“The Vikings are in control and we take all the risk,” Dorfman said.
When talks began in 2014, the Vikings were not expected to contribute any cash toward the bridge. After pushback from the Met Council, an agreement was reached along with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority that called for the team to contribute up to $3.5 million in exchange for half of the LRT station advertising revenue. But when bids were let over the fall, they came in higher than expected, so more negotiations were necessary.
Ultimately, the winning bidder was St. Paul-based LS Black Constructors, which is expected to complete the job in time for the 2016 NFL season.
The Downtown East transit station, already a nexus for the Green and Blue light-rail lines, will see ridership grow when the Southwest and Bottineau light-rail lines are expected begin service in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
The bridge project is now an amendment to the Met Council’s overall capital budget, which will be considered at its Dec. 9 meeting.