U.S. Bank Stadium is a unique facility in Minnesota history — financed by an unprecedented construct of private, state and municipal investments resulting in a premier venue owned by the state of Minnesota, with a primary tenant that was also the largest investor.

 

When the Minnesota Legislature created the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority in 2012, it charged the authority with operating the stadium on a day-to-day basis while protecting the public’s investment by maximizing access for community and amateur sporting events like the Minnesota High School League. The Legislature also required the authority to operate the stadium in a first-class manner similar to comparable stadiums. Every day, the authority has carried out that directive, which has resulted in the stadium being built on time and on budget and has enabled Minnesota to secure next year’s Super Bowl and other major events. More than 90 percent of construction stayed with Minnesota companies, and the project met rigorous equity goals for hiring of both workers and subcontractors. More than $1.5 billion in private-sector development has occurred or is underway because of the stadium.

Despite these significant successes, the authority recognizes the concerns laid out in the legislative auditor’s report Tuesday regarding the use of suites in U.S. Bank Stadium. While the original suite use policy was carried over from the policy of the Metrodome, the authority should have reviewed and developed a new suite use policy before U.S. Bank Stadium opened, and should have maintained better records of suite tickets.

After legislators raised public concerns last year, the authority immediately implemented a new, stricter suite use policy. We also fully cooperated with the legislative auditor for this recent report, as well as the numerous financial audits conducted throughout the stadium’s construction. We believe the use policies at U.S. Bank Stadium are now more restrictive than at any other publicly owned venue in the state. And going forward, we will fully implement any additional recommendations made by the legislative auditor and legislative leaders.

The spotlight on suite use policies also has shown that state laws regarding disclosure of suites and discounted tickets have not been updated since the Metrodome opened. Since then, Target Center, Xcel Energy Center, Target Field, TFC Bank Stadium, CHS Field and U.S. Bank Stadium have opened. Almost every new stadium or arena opened in the past 25 years has not been included in state disclosure laws. The authority supports efforts by state Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, to include greater transparency and accountability for all publicly owned venues.

It is also appropriate and important to review the ongoing management and oversight of the stadium. There will continue to be a healthy tension between the authority and the private-sector partners, since each have different interests to protect.

The Legislature requires the authority to host a significant number of public and amateur sports, community and civic events at a significant financial loss. The Minnesota State High School League and other community groups and athletic teams are ensured access as a result of this directive.

The Legislature’s second directive to the authority, related to ensuring a “world-class facility” comparable to others, results in ongoing pressure to generate sufficient revenue. In our five-year capital plan projection, we have determined a need to invest, on average, $5 million to $10 million annually to meet that standard. The authority is responsible for ensuring that the facility is wisely managed and effectively marketed, to enable maximum return and continued public benefit of the Minnesota taxpayers’ significant investment in the facility. Therefore, we must balance the Legislature’s requirement for public events which operate at a loss to the stadium, with the need to maximize revenue and pay for ongoing stadium operations.

In order to both maximize revenue and ensure public access, the authority maintains focus on a few key strategies: While respecting all the rights and privileges accorded to the Minnesota Vikings in the agreements made with the team, the authority must fully exercise its rights to generate other revenue, and so contracted with SMG to market, sell and support commercial leasing and use of spaces within the facility. SMG is incentivized to drive revenue — which in some instances puts it at odds with the Legislature’s directive to ensure access for those public uses that generate financial losses. That’s why the Legislature created the authority.

The Minnesota Vikings and SMG recently proposed building a fence around the stadium to defray the costs they incur for NFL games and other major events. The authority has opposed this suggestion because it fails to meet the Legislature’s public access directive.

U.S. Bank Stadium is the people’s stadium. The size of public investment in the stadium requires great public scrutiny. The authority stands ready to work with lawmakers to improve accountability and oversight. It is also important to ensure the public purpose of the stadium is maintained and protected.

 

Michele Kelm-Helgen is chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. Ted Mondale is executive director.