My Enemy's Enemy Is My Stadium Buddy, Or Not

The on-field struggles for the Minnesota Vikings are over until next season revs up, but the off-field struggles to obtain a deal for a new stadium continue like a kind of political soap opera. And, like a soap opera, there are myriad interests at play over this single issue, making for some very interesting (potential) bedfellows.

According to the early stadium bill framework, there are three principal interests involved in working out a deal to finance and build a new stadium for the Vikings: the team, the state, and a local equity partner. But the longer this process goes on, the more I've come to realize that you'd almost need a program to keep track of all the different entities that have an interest in this stadium legislation. Clearly, not all of these interests have to agree in order for a deal to be completed, but, for even a fraction of them to come to a workable agreement, it has got to be like herding cats.

Until a local partner is chosen, proven to be politically viable as a partner, and written into a bill that is passed, all the possible local partners, technically, still have a chance and we'll have to hear them continue to argue about which site is best. But "local partner" is a pretty vague term because of all the different government interests in any given patch of land. The Arden Hills site had the support of the Ramsey County Commissioners, but not the St. Paul City Council. The situation in Minneapolis is even more complicated because it has three* different sites: the Metrodome site, the Farmers Market site, and the Linden Avenue/Basilica of St. Mary's site. In the last couple weeks support has swung from the Dome site, to the Linden Avenue site, back to the Dome again, and, apparently, even the Farmers Market, depending on who is currently talking to the press. While Governor Mark Dayton said that the Metrodome site seemed the only feasible site if a stadium bill would be passed this legislative session, there's a rumor circulating that if Hennepin County, previously quiet on the stadium issue, got involved that the Farmers Market site could, again, be a possibility.


However, regardless of the site that might become the local equity partner in the stadium proposal, there are neighbors with concerns (Arden Hills residents, the Basilica of St. Mary's, Mary Jo Copeland's Sharing and Caring Hands, etc.), possible voter referendums (yeah, Ramsey County isn't the only one requiring a voter referendum), and city officials disagreeing with county officials or the mayor's office.

On the state side of things, influence is wielded by both the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Dayton (I just lump Dayton's appointees in with him). If last summer's state government shutdown over the budget and the recent fireworks when the state's Senate Republicans rejected Ellen Anderson, Dayton's appointee to chair the Public Utilities Commission is any indication, they don't work well together. Local political analysts are already speculating that this, most recent disagreement between the governor and Legislature (completely unrelated to a stadium proposal) could impact a stadium bill--how much of an impact that might be is unknown right now. The suggestion that party politics could get resentful is shocking to my innocent mind. Next someone's going to tell me the Oscar's are political. Say it ain't so.

The team end of this three-part partnership is the most straight-forward of the three parts. Team ownership makes decisions about the team's future and, publicly, Zygi and Mark Wilf don't seem to disagree about stadium issues--good because we need at least some agreement to give us hope. But like condos, NFL teams come complete with their own association. The NFL owners like to keep the teams competitive because it makes for a better entertainment product. It requires a vote from the NFL owners to sell a team, to move a team, and to finalize a deal for a new stadium. Saturday in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Bob Sansevere suggested that the NFL owners could be a wildcard in the stadium situation, potentially being able to nix a location so the Wilfs wouldn't have to be the bad guys.

What is funny is that where a new stadium is built might come down to Survivor-esque alliances to prevent one location from scoring the stadium as much as actually wanting the stadium. For instance, back in July 2011, Kathy Langtry, President of the St. Paul City Council said there was no benefit to St. Paul in a county-wide Ramsey County sales tax increase to pay for a Vikings stadium in Arden Hills. But, at the end of January 2012, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman says that the stadium plan advocated by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak would pay off debt on the Target Center "too quickly." Coleman says that would give the Target Center a competitive advantage in booking entertainment acts. And, since the Xcel Energy Center competes with the Target Center to book entertainment, Target Center's advantage is the Energy Center's disadvantage. Looks like there might be a benefit to St. Paul for Arden Hills getting a Vikings' stadium after all. And, if the St. Paul City Council and Mayor Coleman connect those dots, Ramsey County might get some St. Paul support for Arden Hills. Then again, they might not.

That scenario simply serves as an example of a possible political stadium alliance. One would imagine that similar wheels are turning in Minneapolis with all of their potential sites. Just when Vikings fans would hope that the stadium situation might be moving toward greater focus, it looks like things are as open as they were before.

I don't know about you, but I'm going to cross my fingers and hope that Sen. Julie Rosen (R) Fairmont and Rep. Morrie Lanning (R) Moorhead, the legislators who have been working to present stadium legislation, are brushing up on their cat wrangling skills. With the seemingly ever-growing list of interests involved in the Vikings' stadium quest, Rosen and Lanning will need it.

*Lester Bagley said a site southeast of the Metrodome, considered a fourth potential stadium site by some media, is not under active consideration.

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