Minnesota Politics, the Vikings Stadium Quest, and the Art of the Deal

"In the beginning the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."

-Douglas Adams The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Given the way it's being covered in the local media, one would almost think that quote could describe the plans the Minnesota Vikings and Ramsey County unveiled to build a shiny new stadium on the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site. By building on the TCAAP site, the Vikings not only found a local equity partner with Ramsey County, but an opportunity to return fans to the tailgating tradition they had at the old Metropolitan Stadium. So the Vikings had a local equity partner, Vikings fans wouldn't have to worry about the team leaving the state, Ramsey County had an opportunity to develop a large, empty, polluted site, and Minnesota would have a massive building project to provide construction jobs in the midst of a recession. Not only that, but legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant stared down everyone at the press conference and said, "It's almost like fate has saved this for the Vikings."

That announcement should have provoked optimism, and yet, since the announcement last week, we've heard little but doom and gloom in the press and the Minnesota Legislature about the Vikings decision to partner with Ramsey County.

Local television stations and newspapers seem to have little hopeful to say about the project. Some television reports make the Vikings' decision to partner with Arden Hills instead of Minneapolis sound like a tawdry, extra-marital affair-despite the fact that Minneapolis did not work with the Vikings on a stadium proposal. The Minneapolis-based Star-Tribune, when it bothers acknowledging Arden Hills at all, frames the suburb's quest to be the Vikings' new home as utterly improbable and unlikely. Several state legislators representing Ramsey County have expressed doubt about supporting a stadium bill in general, and this one in particular. And, even Governor Mark Dayton, who had previously claimed to have no preference regarding the site of a new Vikings stadium, has now, apparently, developed strong reservations about the Vikings building a stadium in Arden Hills.

If I was a suspicious person, I might think that there was a strong pro-Minneapolis bias at work in both media and legislature. Not only that, but if I was a really suspicious person, I might suggest something like collusion was going on to poison public opinion on the Arden Hills site. And if I was a hardened cynic, I might even suggest that Minneapolis business leaders are exerting "influence" on Governor Dayton to get him to withdraw support for any non-Minneapolis stadium sites. Fortunately, I'm the kind of starry-eyed optimist who never said any of those things were happening and, therefore, can't be sued for libel.

Whatever suspicions might be kicking around in my wildly speculative imagination, the fact remains that the Vikings have a very short amount of time left in the current legislative session to win support and try to get their stadium proposal passed. They are stuck playing politics rather than football.

Join me after the jump as I try to learn about the politics involved in the stadium proposal.

 

Politics is not my game. In fact, it makes me want to puke. But, if it is politics that I must understand in order to do my small part to aid the Vikings in their stadium quest, then politics it is. So I turned to my good friend Malachi. Politics is his game, well, at least it was.

Malachi is a savvy and jaded former politico who worked in Minnesota politics for several years before transitioning to the private sector. I had the good fortune to meet Malachi back in college where I gathered incriminating evidence to hold over him so he'd agree to let me interview him at such a time as this. I'm sweet like that. Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure I should also note that he worked on the GOP side of the aisle.

SG:  When the Vikings bill was initially introduced by Sen. Rosen (R-Fairmont) and Rep. Lanning (R-Moorhead), the Vikings did not yet have a local equity partner, but last week they announced that they were going to partner with Arden Hills-how does that change the momentum behind their stadium proposal?

M: There's no question the Arden Hills announcement breathed new life in the stadium debate. We can only guess what the announcement would have meant coming in January instead of two weeks before the end of the legislative session.

SG:  I know it's probably just crazy suspicion on my part, but is there a Minneapolis-based political mafia in Minnesota?

M: Ha! You mean like the Lutefisk Wars?? No - like any place it's just a collection of interests. Minneapolis just happens to have a bigger collection than most in Minnesota.

SG:  A lot has been said about the additional transportation infrastructure upgrades needed for the Arden Hills site, but the cost estimates for those upgrade varies considerably. How do you think the Vikings and their supporters should address that issue?

M:  Right now it's the biggest barrier to reaching a deal - and no one has a final number yet. These are shoddy loose ends that unravel when you rush an announcement out two weeks before the end of the legislative session. Before they can cover the cost they have to get the number - hopefully that is nailed very soon.*

SG:  What does it say to you that Minneapolis did not appear interested in pursuing the Vikings and then unveiled a proposal for a revamped Metrodome without working with the team on the proposal?

M:  I'll say this - no one showed visionary leadership - hence a proposal that didn't show up until a few weeks before the end of session deadline. Any serious proposal would have been vetted by all parties prior to being made public. That no credible deal was centered in Minneapolis or St. Paul I think has to reflect poorly on the leadership in those two cities - they should be players and instead have abdicated to county government to partner on a deal. However, you have to applaud the leadership and vision displayed by the Ramsey County Commissioners.

SG:  Now that the Vikings and Ramsey County have agreed to terms we're waiting on the states agreement, particularly Governor Dayton's. After professing no site preference, why would Governor Dayton change his opinion and, apparently, withdraw support from the Arden Hills site?

M:  It's not the Governor's job to cheerlead whatever stadium proposal the Vikings present - it's a three-way negotiation so I actually think the Governor has been very positive in terms of supporting a Vikings deal in general. But this is an awkward three-way partnership - quicker to question than propose.

SG:  I'm only half-joking as I ask this, but would it help Zygi Wilf's chances of getting this Arden Hills stadium proposal passed if he gave Governor Dayton a lap-dance?

M:  It probably would have helped Wilf more if the Vikings had located a credible local partner and presented this stadium proposal five months or a year ago.

SG:  What can Vikings fans do now? How much influence can Vikings fans have on their legislators with an issue like the proposed Arden Hills stadium?

M:  If Vikings fans want to see a deal done there is no substitute for calling, writing and otherwise communicating with their elected State office holders - It's not an easy issue for an elected official with multiple large and seemingly intractable problems on their plates - if I could tell my elected officials one thing it would be ''This is important for the entire State - thank you for making time to examine the issue."

My thanks to Malachi.

*New cost estimates for the transportation infrastructure upgrades released on Wednesday say the cost for upgrades will be $131 million instead of $175 million.

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