Change, The Only Constant in the Stadium Situation

If you're paying attention to the Minnesota Vikings' stadium situation, then you know that the Vikings have struck a deal with Minneapolis to build a new stadium both on and near the current Metrodome site. It would be great for the team and its weary fans if this meant that the end of the stadium drama was in sight.

I forget how long ago it was that Governor Mark Dayton stated that the current Metrodome site was the only site for which a stadium bill could be passed in the current legislative session. That statement gave momentum to a site that had previously been considered the site least likely to tempt the team away from it's preferred site in Arden Hills. However, facing down the idea that the only way to pass a stadium bill in the current legislative session was to make a deal to build on the Metrodome site, the Vikings experienced a remarkable change of heart and have worked to craft a deal to build there. This plan calls for building a portion of the new stadium near the Metrodome so the Vikings could play there longer before moving to TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. So, there it is, a done deal that just needs to cruise through the Legislature?

Maybe.

One of the recurring themes in the Vikings' quest to get a new stadium built is that just when you think things are set they change. Just ask Ramsey County.

Politically, it's interesting that not everyone is as convinced as Governor Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak that a deal can be reached to build a stadium in Minneapolis. Most concerning, the Minneapolis City Council is not sold on the idea and a stadium deal currently lacks the seven vote majority it would need in order to pass.

And it isn't as if some to those Council members are tepid in their concerns about a stadium bill, no there is some red-hot opposition thrown in the mix. Back in mid-February Council member Gary Schiff was actively trying to kill the proposal Rybak had for funding a new stadium. At that time, Minneapolis was going to contribute $300 million to a deal for both a stadium and Target Center renovations, but even extending Convention Center taxes decades past their sunset dates, increasing downtown parking meters to $25 for game days, and a tax on football tickets, a financial analysis said that the city was still going to be short $55 million, just a little more than 18%. By the time the bonds were paid off in 30 years, Minneapolis would be responsible for $600 million and that shortfall was estimated to be $107 million. But Mayor Rybak's spokesman John Stiles said the shortfall shouldn't be a concern because the numbers were preliminary and subject to change.

Council member Schiff, however, was less phlegmatic and went so far as to say that it wasn't a good deal for taxpayers and that the city would have tapped every funding source available, putting it in an untenable position should the need to raise revenue. This is part of the reason Minneapolis city leaders said the city was not capable of being a stadium equity partner back in May 2011. Schiff, and other Council members, also suggested that downtown residents would put up a strong fight against the proposal to increase parking meter rates to $25 and ramp rates to $30 on game days.

As of March 1, the stated contribution from Minneapolis for a new stadium was $150 million. And that broaches the question of Target Center. Mayor Rybak and City Council Chair Barb Johnson, have said that building on the Metrodome site would also enable the city to renovate the Target Center. Some watching this situation have said that it is unlikely that the City Council would vote in favor of a new stadium if there wasn't also a provision to renovate the Target Center. But, the Minnesota Legislature seems unlikely to pass a bill that includes Target Center.

While we're on the topic of Minneapolis facilities, what about the Minneapolis Convention Center? The hospitality taxes that Rybak wants to extend past their sunset dates were originally passed to support the Convention Center. Anticipated excess revenue from those taxes is supposed to fund the city's portion of the stadium project, but what happens if that excess revenue disappears because the aging Convention Center needs repairs? For example, the Convention Center executive director Jeff Johnson said in an early February interview that the building's domes may require significant repair, running between $5-15 million to replace the domes. Although the Convention Center generates revenue, those revenues are not sufficient to keep the facility from running in the red past 2017. If there are further hefty repair costs facing the Convention Center, those expected excess hospitality tax revenues intended for a new stadium could shrink like a Speedo at a polar plunge.

Minneapolis City Council members also face the challenge of going back on the 1997 statute that capped the city's subsidy of sports facilities at $10 million. Any city contribution in excess of $10 million would be subject to a public vote unless the Minnesota Legislature overrides that provision. Because a majority of Council members have gone on the record in support of this statute, it looks as if the Legislative override might be necessary if they don't change their stance. However, that does not seem to be current mood at the state capitol, but moods can change.

Again, just ask Ramsey County.

In light of some of the challenges that will have to be dealt with to get a stadium deal passed, this seemed too good a musical choice to pass up.

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