The food served up to guests in two state-owned luxury suites at U.S. Bank Stadium cost taxpayers $32,120, according to a letter sent by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) to three GOP legislators who are investigating use of two suites. Many suite guests were friends and family of MSFA members.
House Government Finance Committee Chairwoman Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said Tuesday she will seek reimbursement for the food cost when her committee delves into the MSFA operation and use of the suites.
Anderson commented on a 27-page document sent by the MSFA in response to questions last month from her, Senate Finance Chairwoman Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake.
Anderson and Rosen, who was a sponsor of the 2012 legislation that got the stadium built with nearly $500 million in public money, say they will lead Republican efforts to examine the MSFA’s operations this session.
In response to lawmakers’ questions, the MSFA revealed a few new details, including the cost of the food, who got free parking passes and an acknowledgment that there was a quorum of commissioners at one Vikings game, but that it wasn’t illegal. The document also outlined the written suite policy and the division of duties between Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and Executive Director Ted Mondale.
Kelm-Helgen is expected to make her first appearance this session Wednesday at a hearing of the Government Operations & Elections Committee.
Since the stadium opened Aug. 3 with a soccer match, the MSFA has controlled access to two Norseman Suites on the main concourse of the $1.1 billion stadium. The suites accommodate 36 guests total. For the Vikings season alone, a suite sells for between $200,000 and $300,000. The MSFA controls the suites for all stadium events.
Anderson said she thinks the suites, on the 20-yard line, are more likely on the higher end of that range. She expects to calculate the true cost of using them, including the $32,120 for food, and seek additional reimbursement from guests who used them.
MSFA spokeswoman Jenn Hathaway said the reported costs covered eight Vikings games, two concerts and two soccer games.
In acknowledging the quorum of commissioners in a suite for the first Vikings preseason game Aug. 28, MSFA officials said that “to the best of our knowledge, there was no discussion among commissioners that should have occurred in a public meeting.”
Anderson and Rosen won’t hold hearings until they receive a report from Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles who opened a priority investigation in to the use of the suites after the Star Tribune published in late November a story about their use and MSFA’s lack of disclosure of guest names. The MSFA said the names of their guests were private marketing data and couldn’t be released.
Since then, the MSFA has released the names of commissioners’ friends and family members who attended events and collected reimbursements of about $200 per game including food. So far, the MSFA has collected $22,790. Mondale has not yet reimbursed the MSFA for any of his guests. Last month, the MSFA suspended the practice of inviting friends and family.
Anderson said she thinks the reimbursement to taxpayers should be higher. For one, she noted the list of people who used some of the 22 free parking spots controlled by the MSFA in the exclusive lot.
Kelm-Helgen and Mondale have said the suites are necessary for marketing purposes, to show off the stadium to potential users.