Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold said he never doubted his hockey team would stay in Xcel Energy Center, the St. Paul arena that's been its home since 2000. By agreeing to a 10-year lease extension, the NHL team will slash its annual lease payments — enabling the team to invest in the building, potentially including the RiverCentre parking ramp, Leipold said.
"This is our city. It's the only way we can put it — we are St. Paul," Leipold said, praising Mayor Melvin Carter and city finance officials for renegotiating the interest rate and extending the repayment period. "It's a refreshing feeling that we have someone who recognizes the value that we provide for the city."
Carter, whom Leipold presented with a Wild jersey emblazoned with the number 2035, said he is delighted that the team's commitment to St. Paul and the "huge economic impact" it makes will continue. The team also manages St. Paul's RiverCentre and Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
"They drive vitality in St. Paul," Carter said, noting the $9.7 million in annual sales taxes generated by the arena, as well as the hotels, bars and restaurants that get a boost from nearly 2 million visitors to Xcel each year. "Their presence enriches not only our capital city, but our entire state as well."
By the city refinancing arena bonds at a lower interest rate and extending the team's lease through 2035, the Wild's annual rent payments will drop from nearly $9 million per year to less than $4 million per year, said Jeff Pellegrom, the team's chief financial officer. When asked if there are any specific improvements planned, city and team officials wouldn't say. The debt on Xcel Energy Center is now about $48 million, according to the city.
Leipold and Pellegrom said the team's obligations at Xcel are unchanged. The Wild manages the arena and is responsible for day-to-day operations. The team will continue to pay 80% of the cost of repairs and improvements. Since Xcel opened, the Wild has spent more than $50 million on arena improvements, Pellegrom said. The Wild also spends about $2 million per year on maintenance. Officials praised the "extraordinary" condition of the arena, now among the oldest in the Twin Cities after a decadelong sports facilities building boom.
Fans and visitors regularly say "I can't believe this building is almost 20 years old," Pellegrom said. "The bones of this building are just spectacular."
It isn't clear what the team intends to do regarding the parking ramp.
The RiverCentre ramp reopened in November 2018 after being shut down for six months for emergency repairs. Officials closed the nearly 50-year-old ramp on Kellogg Boulevard in May after a 3-by-2-foot slab of concrete fell from the ceiling and struck a parked car. No one was hurt. In 2017, the city unsuccessfully tried to secure $58 million in state funding to pay for a new ramp.
Leipold said the team approached the city about an extension.
"The reason that we were really interested in doing this now is that there are a number of investments that we want to make in this building. There are some issues with our parking ramp across the street that we need to deal with," he said. "And, before we started to look at different directions we could go down, we wanted to make sure we were talking about 16 or 17 years down the road we'd be locked in and not six years down the road."
James Walsh • 612-673-7428