While being questioned by legislators about questionable usage of U.S. Bank Stadium suites, Michele Kelm-Helgen declared it was “a new day.”
The question is how new.
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chairwoman said public concern put an immediate end to the practice of authority members and its CEO, Ted Mondale, hosting gatherings of family and friends in the seats designated for marketing efforts.
“I clearly heard and understood that people did not support having friends and family in these suites,” she told the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee on Jan. 11.
At the same time, she noted the authority members were simply applying policies established at the Metrodome, Target Field and other sports complexes to the new stadium.
The unique nature of U.S. Bank Stadium requires unique policies, however. That’s why the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority was created to design, construct and operate the facility.
Kelm-Helgen said a policy change was immediately made for the U.S. Bank Stadium suites, but she also suggested legislative changes could affect other venues that allow public officials to host families and friends without cost.
A legislative auditor’s report expected to address the issue this month has been delayed until February, allowing legislators time to schedule a joint House-Senate hearing on the day it’s published. That hearing is likely to spur suggested changes for stadium practices, as well as the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority’s operating structure.
Whatever the outcome, it must include tightening of restrictions on use of publicly funded spaces by those who are tasked with overseeing their operations.
The state and city of Minneapolis provided $498 million in direct funding for the new $1.1 billion stadium, which is owned and operated by the state. While the Minnesota Vikings covered approximately $608 million of the cost and is obviously the stadium’s most important tenant, it cannot be overlooked that the venue is a public facility.
As such, it needs to operate with complete openness.
Kelm-Helgen pointed to the public nature of the facility when she told legislators about daily use by in-line skating groups and running clubs, as well as the roughly 15,000 people who tour the facility each month. Additionally, the authority continues to seek new opportunities for use, such as hosting the X-Games this year and bringing sought-after college events back to the state.
The authority’s stadium suites were designed for such activities — to show event organizers all the perks the new stadium can offer. Using the spaces for anything else simply endangers the public trust.
As the state gears up to host the Super Bowl in 2018, it cannot afford to suffer the black eye misuse of the facility generates.
We applaud the quick action by authority members to reverse the troubling practice at U.S. Bank Stadium, and we encourage lawmakers to support efforts to ensure it’s not repeated and to rein in any other possible infringement on the public trust when it comes to financing sports venues throughout the state.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ROCHESTER POST-BULLETIN