Two of U.S. Bank Stadium's most luxurious suites formerly used to entertain friends and family of its state oversight board will be ceded to the stadium's operator for the upcoming Vikings season and blockbuster concerts like Guns N' Roses, Justin Bieber and U2.
Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) interim Chairwoman Kathleen Blatz said that's what the suites, which can accommodate up to 18 guests each, were intended for. SMG can use the suites to build relationships with "people they want to do business with or want to do more business with."
SMG spokeswoman Lisa Niess noted the operator will be trying to market the building for everything from massive trade shows to private dinners and meetings in the suites and clubs. But she didn't rule out other uses. "We are awaiting direction from the MSFA as to whether we can sell the suites for concerts and family shows," she said.
Blatz became interim chair of the MSFA after former chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen resigned amid heavy criticism for her use of the suites to host family, friends and DFL political allies, including several members of Gov. Mark Dayton's administration, where Kelm-Helgen previously worked. Among the guests: Commissioner of Management and Budget Myron Frans and his wife, Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal; Dayton's deputy chief of staff Linden Zakula and his wife; Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, her husband as well as Council Member Jacob Frey.
The suites sit on the main concourse around the 20-yard line. Kelm-Helgen initially refused to release the names of those she, former executive director Ted Mondale and other commissioners of the MSFA board had hosted at games and concerts last fall, claiming guests were marketing targets. Under pressure, the MSFA released a partial list that included many friends and family of MSFA leaders.
Blatz said the suites won't be misused again. New executive director Rick Evans will likely attend games and events, but he will spend his time walking the building to monitor the operation and see how lines and crowds are moving.
"I really agree SMG is the primary marketer of the stadium," Blatz said.
SMG, led by general manager Patrick Talty, pays the state to operate the building. The experienced, global company pays the state a guaranteed $6.75 million annually. Above that, the state and SMG split the income under a formula, so SMG has a strong incentive to fill the building.
But in the Kelm-Helgen and Mondale era, SMG was not allowed into the suites.
Whether the names of SMG's guests will be made public is not yet clear.
Blatz said the market for events and concerts is highly competitive — even among Twin Cities venues. She said the MSFA will keep the names of guests, but doesn't necessarily intend to release them immediately. She suggested potentially turning them over to the legislative auditor.
After the problems with Kelm-Helgen's use of the suites, the Legislature considered changing the laws to restrict how the suites could be used and perhaps capture revenue from them. But the bill stalled in the final days of the legislative session.