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Potential Struggles for Stadium Bill

While we here at the Daily Norseman have been keeping busy with the not-so-shocking revelation of the New Orleans Saints' "Bountygate", finding out which free-agents the Minnesota Vikings are planning to re-sign, observing Chris Cook's trial proceedings, and debating what new general manager, Rick Spielman, will do with the third overall pick in the coming draft, the Vikings' bill to build a stadium overlapping their current stadium is beginning to chug through the Minnesota Legislature.

Although I couldn't find something specific to Minnesota's legislative process, with its bicameral Legislature the process for a bill becoming a law in the state of Minnesota is pretty similar to this.

The bill for a new Vikings' stadium is starting to make its way through various committees, shepherded by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) in the state Senate and Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead) in the state House of Representatives. These two have been critical to the process, drafting the basics of the stadium bill while waiting for the team, Minneapolis, and state to come to an agreement on the specifics of a deal. Full specifics are not yet available to the public, but the details that have emerged, at this point, are similar to what we've been hearing for the past week. Given some of the different interests that have already voiced their opposition to any use of government money in support of a professional sports team, or to the expansion of gambling in the state, the bill may have a challenging time getting passed before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on April 30.

Here are a few of the challenges that could slow the bill's progress.

Item 1: Show me the money.

Constructing a new stadium will require nearly $1 billion from the team, the state of Minnesota, and the city of Minneapolis. To raise the government portion of those construction costs ($398 million Minnesota, $150 million Minneapolis), the state will issue bonds, using revenues from expanded gambling in the form of electronic pull-tabs (estimated to generate $72 million* annually in new tax revenue for the state, $35 million a year for the stadium) to pay for the state's bond payments. The use of pull-tab revenue has been important in stadium talks because the state has said that no money from Minnesota's general fund will be used to finance a stadium. Although the $72 million in projected revenue is more than the $35 million a year that the state would need for bond payments, the bond issuers may require the state to have back-up funding in place. An article by Brian Bakst and Patrick Condon in Wednesday's St. Paul Pioneer Press has this to say on the issue:

"However, bond investors typically seek assurances that revenue coming in will be well more than the annual debt and interest owed, sometimes as much as double that amount. That's especially true with bonds like those eyed for the stadium, which won't be backed with the full state taxing authority."

While polls have shown that Minnesota taxpayers favor a funding option that uses gambling revenue, bond issuers seem to see that as greater risk than revenues that are backed by the state's taxing authority. Stadium backers who are touting the deal's electronic pull-tab funding source may have a fight on their hands if the bond issuers require back-up funding.

Item 2: Unity in the community**.

Thirty years ago, the Metrodome was expected to generate development as a premiere sports entertainment destination in the Twin Cities. That didn't happen. But now, with construction on the light-rail Central Corridor project, and the Hiawatha line passing close to the stadium site, hopes are renewed that the area will be a target of new development. However, not all community and business leaders agree that a stadium should be part of the area's redevelopment. Tucked near the end of a Pioneer Press article by Frederick Melo was this tidbit:

"Real estate investor Bruce Lambrecht; Dave Albersman, president of a local planning firm; and Oyaas [Mark Oyaas, a public affairs consultant in downtown Minneapolis] have made no secret of their interest in razing the Metrodome. They would replace it with homes and a health-science campus of sorts for the University of Minnesota medical school, the Hennepin County Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic or private medical firms.

"The Dayton-Rybak plan stands in the way of that vision. But they suspect the latest stadium plan will stall in the Legislature and the campus or another redevelopment proposal could yet succeed."

There are two very interesting things touched on and both could influence Minneapolis support for the Metrodome site. First, you might not know this, but hospitals are always looking to expand and, as one of the biggest hospitals in the Twin Cities, Hennepin County Medical Center (located close to the Metrodome) might be interested in a project to create a medical campus at that location. Second, Bruce Lambrecht isn't just some kook who dabbles in Minneapolis development, he's one of the folks who helped get Target Field built. Given his history, Lambrecht's opinion holds some weight in the Minneapolis business community. And members of the Minneapolis business community, particularly those involved with 2020 Partners, would prefer to build a new Vikings stadium west of downtown near Target Field in the Farmers Market. That could make it difficult for Minneapolis City Council president Barb Johnson, also a member of 2020 Partners, to shore up support for the Metrodome site on the Council so a stadium deal can proceed. The Minnesota Legislature can override the amendment to the Minneapolis City Charter that caps city spending on stadiums to $10 million, but the Legislature might not want to with elections looming this fall.

Item 3: Unalike twins.

Minneapolis and St. Paul and their surrounding suburbs are referred to as the Twin Cities, but they're more fraternal twins than identical ones. With a population of 385,578 as of the 2010 census, Minneapolis has about 100,000 more people than St. Paul. Minneapolis has a more vibrant nightlife with lots of restaurants, shopping, and entertainment venues. It's also home to the Minnesota Twins, and the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, as well as the Vikings. As the county St. Paul is located in, Ramsey County's bid to woo the Vikings to the TCAAP property in Arden Hills would have been something of a coup in the region. For as much as the Twin Cities like to advocate the idea of regionalism and promoting what is best for the entire 7-country metro area as a whole, that's an easier sell when it doesn't appear that all the lucrative development is going on in the west metro-Minneapolis. Twin Cities' regional politics could play a role in a stadium bill's success in the Legislature. State Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) and state Sen. John Harrington (DFL-St. Paul) wrote an editorial in the Pioneer Presss on Thursday outlining their thoughts on the Minneapolis stadium proposal, they aren't fans. Mahoney and Harrington even cite how the state was absolutely firm that it would contribute no more than $300 million to a stadium in Ramsey County, but for a stadium in Minneapolis the state was willing to spend $398 million saying,

"It seems the rules were different, depending on which side of the river the negotiations were happening on."

Mahoney and Harrington aren't the only St. Paul politicians to take exception with Minneapolis' preferential treatment in the stadium derby. Somewhat belatedly, St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman has expressed concerns about the Target Center renovations attached to a stadium bill affecting competition for entertainment bookings between Target Center and the Xcel Energy Center. There has been talk of putting the Xcel and the Target Center under the same management so they would no longer have to compete for bookings, but so far that hasn't happened. Coleman has said that the renovations to the Target Center could give it an advantage over the Xcel in bookings, making it harder for the St. Paul facility to generate revenue.

St. Paul may not be as big as Minneapolis, but as the second-largest city in Minnesota it does have a fair amount of interests at the capitol that could complicate the Minneapolis stadium bill's passage. How the rivalry between Minneapolis and St. Paul for this lucrative development project is handled, could affect the stadium bill.

So, there are three issues that could come into play as the Vikings' stadium bill works its way through the capitol. No doubt, there are more issues facing the bill than just these three, but it's a place to start.

Oh, and a gold star to anyone who knows what state does not have a bicameral legislature. The gold star is a lot like the Burger King crown in that it is an empty honor and solely for bragging rights. That said, I will berate your high school civics teachers if you don't know this.

*The estimate that electronic pull-tabs will generate $72 million a year comes from Minnesota's state Revenue Department.

**Those of you from the Twin Cities might have recognized that I borrowed that slogan from radio station KMOJ 89.9 FM.