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Legislators face fourth down on Vikings stadium

Twelve men in the huddle. A Brett Favre interception. A New Orleans field goal in overtime.

That rapid-fire string of events two years ago destroyed the dream of a Super Bowl berth for Minnesota Vikings fans.

Now the Minnesota Legislature could implode the dreams of supporters of a new Vikings stadium.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican bill sponsors, Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont and Rep. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead, have been doing the heavy lifting to build political momentum for a stadium. The trio favored setting a deadline for this week, so everybody could see the pros and cons of the competing stadium proposals.

Sen. Julie Rosen
Sen. Julie Rosen

Many Minnesotans, whether they have a love or hate relationship with the Vikings, are suffering badly from stadium issue fatigue.

It's one of many reasons why dithering shouldn't be an option for the 2012 Legislature.

From a liberal perspective, it's easy for legislators to say they don't want to subsidize a wealthy team owner.

From a conservative perspective, it's easy for legislators to say they don't favor any tax or fee to raise revenue for a stadium.

But Minnesotans didn't get to write the rules that govern where professional sports teams locate and how their stadiums are financed.

The stadium game
If Minnesotans want to retain the Vikings they have to play by the rules of the U.S. stadium game, whether they find those rules acceptable or abhorrent.

Rep. Morrie Lanning
Rep. Morrie Lanning

After years of debate, Minnesota's politicians ultimately built enough support to clear the pathway for Target Field.

That facility has served Minnesota Twins fans in spectacular fashion, but it also has improved Minnesota's standing in the national consciousness.

American baseball fans who watch a network broadcast of a Twins game can catch a glimpse of downtown Minneapolis because of the outdoor ballpark. Typically, they'll see a beautiful summer night and tall buildings in a modern city. The scene proves there is civilization between the East and West coasts and that Minnesota does not have snow 12 months of the year.

There are business reasons to build a Minnesota Vikings stadium that go well beyond the needs of the NFL and Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.

In the 21st century, financial and human capital are more mobile than ever.

Minnesota needs a fair tax system and well-educated workers to foster a healthy economy, but it also needs to be a place where business owners and employees want to live and work.

Keeping four major professional sports teams in town is an important element in the quality-of-life index in the Twin Cities.

On the public relations front, three events in recent years have given Minnesota's national reputation a black eye.

In 2007, the I-35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing or injuring dozens of people.

In 2010, the Metrodome roof collapsed in a snowstorm and a network TV camera captured it all on video that has been viewed countless times on the Internet.

In 2011, budget talks between the governor and legislative leaders collapsed, resulting in a three-week government shutdown.

The national media covered each of these events extensively. If you are a business owner or rising star living in another state, would you conclude that Minnesota has its act together?

Of course, those three examples don't capture all of the good aspects of living in the Twin Cities and other regions of Minnesota.

But those three examples make one wonder whether Minnesota's political and physical infrastructures are crumbling.

Defining a city and state
Major facilities help to define a city or state for good or ill. The investment in a new Guthrie Theater buttressed the Twin Cities reputation as an arts mecca. And a $75 million expansion of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts will bring added vitality to downtown St. Paul.

Without question, there are more important issues than the Vikings stadium facing the state. A paramount one is creating school systems that will help children get a good education, regardless of their color or family's income.

One does not have to choose between the Vikings and poor kids. There already is a citizen consensus that income tax dollars should not be used for a Vikings stadium bill.

It's not enough for legislators to say they want the Vikings to stay in Minnesota, and then oppose any reasonable stadium financing package that is proposed.

The Vikings would be the major tenant of a new stadium, but the facility also would serve as Minnesota's community center the rest of the time. Just like the current Metrodome, it would host everything from ethnic festivals to high school football playoffs.

The issue of a new Vikings stadium offers Minnesota the opportunity to move forward in a new century or to regress.

The Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles and the Minnesota North Stars relocated to Dallas. If Minnesota legislators shrug their shoulders and do nothing, we shouldn't be surprised to one day see Vikings moving vans.

Fedor can be reached at lfedor@minnpost.com

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Comments (15)

Liz,

Great article, and I agree with many of the points in it. I have never been opposed to the "quality of life" arguments that many stadium proponents use.

The problem with those arguments is that they are often used instead of, rather than alongside a hard-nosed analysis of exactly how much a stadium will cost the taxpayers vs how much we can expect to earn back in tax revenues. Most studies that have been done show that it is an overall losing proposition for taxpayers when they subsidize professional sports stadiums.

All I really want is someone to stand up and say, "Yes, building a Minnesota Vikings stadium will lose the State money, but I think it is worth it for the quality of life of Minnesotans." Then we need to start the discussion of whether or not losing 200 million, 300, million, 400 million, or more is worth it for that "quality of life" x factor.

The bottom line is, no one is talking to Minnesotans as though we are adults right now.

Wow, spend 600 million dollars so people can see our skyline on tv once a week for 8 weeks a year. That ought to convince people this is a great place to live.

Personally I can't afford a vikings game now and the prices will probably double in the new stadium. What I can afford are things like the bike paths and parks, an occasional play, driving on bridges that won't collapse under me, sending my kids to decent schools - all things alot cheaper than doubling the resale value of the vikings.

The first poster is right, no one is talking to the voters like we are adults. In fact they are trying to snowball this thing through with as little public input as possible. It won't fly in Ramsey county because those officials want to let the people vote. Hennepin county has already demonstrated that they will circumvent the intent of their laws in order to force a stadium through against the public's will.

This will get forced down our throats. Who draws up all these plans without first having a financing plan in place. I certainly don't conduct my own financial life that way. I start with "can I afford it" before I start shopping. These guys start shopping on the idea that they can build momentum to cram it down our throats and they will succeed.

If there's any substantial amount of public funding -- say more than 25% of the cost (which will certainly be the case) -- then we're idiots if we don't insist on some sort of clause giving the public a share of the increased value of the team in any future resale.

If Zygi gets a new stadium, the value of his franchise immediately increases by a large amount -- $300, $400 million or more.

If he sells the team in 10 years, the public should share in the value created by the new stadium.

Liz, what are the rules of the "U.S. stadium game" that Minnesotans have no choice but to play by, and why is that?

I'm assuming that these rules are that for a team not to leave the public must take the majority of the financial burden. But this is a falsehood propagated by the sports industry, sports media, and government officials who see building extremely expensive sports arenas or stadiums as ways to put their stamp on their term in office.

There are plenty of stadiums that were privately financed by either the team owner, the business community, or a combo of both. Why is it that this can't be an option in MN, and why does the MN media keep refusing to bring this up?

As well, is there indication that business are fleeing the state or refusing to locate in MN because of the dome collapse or the 35W bridge collapse? This article would have been a good spot to provide such evidence, but since you didn't I'll go ahead and assume there isn't.

What is interesting though, is that you give the I-35W bridge collapse as proof the public should spend hundreds of millions on a single sports stadium, not that they should be spending hundreds of millions on improving infrastructure. It's an odd logic where a bridge collapsing is evidence that a stadium for a private institution should be built.

What this commentary doesn't grapple with directly, and what rightly belongs at the very heart of the discussion, is the economic impact, the return on investment to the state as a whole.

To that end, I keep coming back to things like a National League of Cities-based study from about ten years ago, which summarized the research on sports stadiums: "Recent scholarship shows that stadiums are, in some sense, 'loss leaders'; they may contribute to the 'big league' image of a city, but they usually exert little positive economic impact, despite their high-profile status." (Judd, et. al, "Tourism and Entertainment as Local Economic Development: A National Survey")

That seems to capture the essential conundrum that makes this issue so difficult. If there is any positive net economic impact - which is itself a matter of deep debate - it is very ambiguous and hard to quantify. Compare that with the very quantifiable and very positive impacts we can measure from things like investment in early childhood education, as former Minneapolis Fed Senior Vice President Art Rolnick so often has pointed out, and you see the challenge. There's no reason we couldn't fund early childhood education using the same funding sources we're talking about using for a stadium.

For policymakers who want to do right by policymaking, that would seem the elephant in the room. It's a matter of how we use limited tax dollars to get the largest return on investment, not to mention do the best by the people of Minnesota.

It's not necessarily to say there's no way past that elephant. But particularly for a spectacularly expensive facility in the suburbs used only a handful of times a year, it seems a particularly uphill climb to make. Once you drill down to the crux of the matter, I'm not sure that stadium boosters have yet risen to the occasion, or made the sale on the issues that should really be of most concern to state policymakers of all stripes.

I’m not a football fan, and I don’t care if the Vikes move to L.A., or Nome, Alaska.

There might be something – not very much, but something – to the argument about “quality of life,” but it’s difficult to quantify, unlike the “contribution” from local residents and taxpayers, and that “something” isn’t likely to affect me personally, since I won’t be attending any professional football games, no matter what the team is called, or where it plays.

Yes, the North Stars moved away. Is there not a hockey team to replace them? It doesn’t matter if the Wild is playing well at the moment. This is an area where hockey is popular, and people will pay money to see the team even if they’re abysmal.

Yes, the Lakers moved to L.A. Is there not a similar basketball team to replace them? Ricky Rubio seems to be a big item on the sports pages, and basketball fans are showing up.

Yes, the Wilf ownership may get frustrated with the refusal of the local populace to enrich them beyond their current fortune’s rate of growth, or subsidize their development plans. Obviously, their reverence for a “free market” goes only so far, and that’s not far enough for them to finance the project (and take the risk) themselves.

So what?

If the Vikes move away, another franchise will replace them. This area, I’ve read in multiple places, really likes its football. It would be sheer stupidity (not out of the question, but not likely, either) for the NFL to insist “No other franchise shall ever be allowed to play NFL football in the Twin Cities.” I lived in St. Louis for half a century. When the football Cardinals moved to the Arizona desert, the community basically alternated between saying “Good riddance” to arrogant ownership, and crying in its figurative beer over the loss of the franchise. Voilá! A few years later, the Rams moved to St. Louis *FROM* L.A., where football apparently was in the same category as Dodgers baseball – meh.

The first 3 posters all make valid points, but I’m inclined to agree that area residents aren’t being talked to as if they were adults. To a taxpayer who’s not a fan, the whole process is being pursued with as *little* public input as possible. Frankly, I like John Reinan’s idea in #3 very much. If it’s going to be crammed down taxpayer throats anyway, any substantial public subsidy should be accompanied by public ownership in the form of a share of any increased value that accrues to the team. If area taxpayers kick in 25 percent of the cost, then the area, whatever “area” that happens to be, should be entitled to 25 percent of any increase in value.

If that violates NFL rules, take ‘em to court.

I’m guessing that neither situation is what the Wilfs have in mind.

Rah, rah, rah.

I'd prefer we be known as the community that finally said "no" to major league sports, than yet another in a long line that paid them tribute.

Personal preferencs aside, let's look at the arguments made here.

First, any economist you talk to will tell you that there is a limit to available tax dollars, no matter their specific source, just as there is a limit to entertainment dollars in any community. When you take tax dollars from one source, you deplete the total dollars available, necessarily limiting the tax revenues available for what even Ms. Fedor admits "are more important issues than the Vikings stadium facing the state."

So, to say that the Vikings are not competing with poor kids because they don't want to use income tax dollars is simply a lie. The Vikings have run a major ad campaign based solely on the argument that they're only asking the state to spend the money the Vikings' or associated industries pay in taxes.

As for the argument that business won't locate here if we don't have 4 major league sports franchises: I can't imagine what world Ms. Fedor lives in. While local legend has it that Burlington Northern Railroad left town because its new, post-merger CEO preferred to live in Forth Worth, TX, the fact is that businesses locate where it makes the most economic sense to do so. Despite the decades since American industry began its move overseas, we've yet to see a major league franchise in any of the nations with which we compete. For that matter, we're continually told by some that Minnesota can't compete with surrounding states because of our business climate, despite those states' lack of any professional athletic teams (other than Wisconsin, with its teams located on the easternmost fringes of the state).

This entire pitch is based on fly-over envy, the apparently unquenchable belief that Minnesota is a poor second to the rest of the country and that we must redress the perceived humiliation we experienced more than 50 years ago, when a 13 year old basketball team on the verge of financial ruin left for Los Angeles. See http://stewthornley.net/mplslakers.html (The Lakes came to Minnesota as nothing more than a name, purchased from Detroit for $15,000.) Add to that the bewildering belief that Norm Green's inability to make a buck here was our fault. As has been said, ""When [Norm Green] came here, he said, 'Only an idiot could lose money on hockey in Minnesota.' Well, I guess he proved that point."

I do agree with one point: "It's not enough for legislators to say they want the Vikings to stay in Minnesota, and then oppose any reasonable stadium financing package that is proposed." You can't have it both ways in anything but politics, it seems. Legislators need to quit looking for cover and simply say "No, this is not a good use of public money, It never has been and never will be. Any business that cannot afford to pay for its own facilities probably shouldn't be in business. Any business that can afford its own facilities and asks the public to pay for them should be condemned by all."

Yes, many of us are fatigued by the stadium issue. We are fatigued because neither the Vikings nor their supporters will give up and go away. The Wilfs do not want to stay here because they love Minnesota or for any of the other reasons Ms. Fedor suggests we build them a stadium. They are here and want to stay here because they believe they can make a profit here, using our money. It really is as simple as that. If and when they become convinced that they can get a better deal elsewhere, using someone else's money, they'll leave. As with any other industry, the business of this business is business.

So be it.

Some random observations about the stadium issue:

1. This team is not moving. Period. It does not have the votes to move. Chicago, Green Bay & Detroit won't vote to move it. A team in Florida or teams in California may move, but not the Vikings.

2. Has anyone ever heard or read about a business letting its office or building lease expire or selling its plants and offices and NOT having buildings or plants to relocate to? NO. It would be irrational. But this is what the Wilf family has done. Why? They have no place to move to. The reason is very obvious: They are bluffing. It is as simple as that. Why our public officials won't call the bluff is the major irrational aspect of this drama.

3. Re: Quality of Life. The number of fans who actually pay to enter a stadium and watch a game are dwarfed by the number who sit in their living rooms and watch it on TV. Those TV viewers outnumber the stadium sitters, probably, by a factor of 15 to 1 for a regular game and 20 or 30 for a big game. The point is that the vast majority of fans don't care where the team plays. It could play its 12 or so games a year in Ted Mondale's patio.

4. How will the Wilf family come up with its portion of the costs? It will write a check for a few million, but almost all will be leverged by loans paid off by future revenue from the publicly-financed stadium. The notion that the Wilf's will pay $300+ million is absurd. They will use the stadilum revenues to pay their portion of the costs. Meanwhile, T. Mondale declared that one goal of the Sports Commission is to help the Vikings remain profitable.
In today's Strib, there is a story about a fellow in Ramsey, Minnesota, who may not qualify for a public defender because his assets exceed the legal limit---and one proof of his wealth is that he had Direct-TV. Why should a defendant who seeks a public defender be forced to disclose his private finances, yet another family who seeks $600 million in public money does not? This is a classic case of a family in the top .000001% outnegotiating our public officials.

5. I'll close by noting a curious omission from the lengthy list of communities that want this stadium: Bloomington. When the old stadium in Bloomington was demolishged and a new one built in downtown Minneapolis, the public was assured REPEATEDLY that it would attract hotels, night life anbd fabulous entertainment spots. Didn't happen. The entertainment district moved west not east, away from the stadium. Meanwhile, poor stadiumless Bloomington was left with what turned out to be the Mall of America. Who is laughing now: Minneapolis, which has an unsightly wart on its face, or Bloomington?

dah,
Minneapolis

But when the Vikings move to L.A next year, it'll only be the latest cost to our civil society caused by the politics of envy.

Pay for the stadium using a voluntary tax like gambling or ticket sales and be done with it. You'll never satisfy the small-minded people who hate the team owners because they have more than they do, so build it with funds that the whiners don't have to personally come up with.

Great discussions here from everyone, thank you. James Hamilton, in particular, really nailed it.

I'd like to see a courageous politician come out and say a few things that absolutely need to be said. These are my thoughts:

(1a) It is not the state's job to build a stadium. Warnings about increased stadium costs (due to theoretical inflation) if we delay are nothing but a distraction and an implication that it's the state's job to build a stadium. It is not.

(1b) It is not the state's job to provide an NFL franchise. Warnings about how much it would cost "us" to get a new franchise should the Vikings leave are nothing but a distraction and a false implication that it's the state's job to provide an NFL franchise. It is not.

(2) Bob Spaulding makes an excellent point that occurs to me all the time, but that very few officials are talking about. If we suddenly create a new revenue source (e.g, Racino) we could use that money for better investments like schools. The education system in this state used to be admired. But its importance has been marginalized and demonized since Tim Pawlenty took office. We need to restore it.

(3) Wilf et al. want Arden Hills mainly for the parking revenue. That location would be the most overtly egregious use of taxpayer money because it was chosen for the profits it could generate. Wilf is asking for my money to build a parking lot from which the Vikings and ONLY the Vikings will profit. Unacceptable.

(4) It's fascinating to watch Republican legislators squirm around in this delicious little dilemma. So far I must say I've been impressed and surprised that only one of them (Lanning) has really succumbed to that patented brand of GOP hypocrisy. We're lucky that 2012 is an election year and they've somehow managed to avoid taxing us for a stadium. We'll see how long that lasts.

(5) You seriously brought up the I-35W bridge debacle? And then had the audacity to compare it with the Metrodome roof collapse? The bridge was a clear demonstration of the failure of American infrastructure spending. And though it should have been a lesson for us to spend money to fix that infrastructure, you'd almost swear it never happened. NOTHING changed.

Finally, someone writes a civil recap synopsis of the final saga[?] regarding the Vikings and their new proposed venue wherever. I can't believe a 'civilized' society still after 10 years of heated debate can't get its act together.

Yes, we are living in tumultuous adverse times. Yes, Minnesotans have a love-hate relationship with the Vikings. But, after a decade of the most heated sports discussions on this planet, Minnesota is still basically at a standstill about newer Vikings facilities.

Isn't anyone tired of this on-going soap opera regarding the Vikings? Will it take the Vikings leaving to realize that for better or for worse the Vikings were part of the fabric of living in this state?

I can't afford Vikings tickets at the present rates or maybe the future rates per ticket but I am willing as a citizen to see the stadium venue project through its fruition. For besides the Vikings, the new stadium is a "peoples" venue. A venue that we can be proud of, utilize for many activities etc., and help create revenues for the state and metroplex.

Any great public works project does have its sacrifices but in the end contributes to the well being of the citizenry. All you have to do is look presently at Cleveland, Ohio, and it's major venues. They are not making huge profits and all due to the city's economic woes. BUT, they are holding their own and contributing modest positive revenues to the city's and county's treasuries.

Surprise folks but Cleveland is in worse economic straits than the Twin Cities. However, judicious foresight and experience in handling a sports mess two decades ago made the city and its citizens realize that changes and standards had to be put in place to avoid another sports debacle.

Why can't those lessons be adjusted and applied here in Minnesota? It didn't take Clevelanders 10 years to make up their collective minds. It took teamwork and a goal to make their sports scene future a bright one. Too bad their pro-teams' playing on the field of late haven't been up to peoples expectations. Sounds like the Vikings?

The legislature didn't exactly "build enough support" among the public to get the Twins stadium built. The law forbidding public spending for such purposes without the permission of citizens has a fatal provision: the legislature can decide that, for THIS spending, knowing the public opposes it, they'll make the decision themselves.

Economic impact? Other than welcome construction jobs to build a stadium, the number of full-time-equivalent jobs provided by pro sports in our state is 500.

Several mid-2000s studies of the economic impact of the arts (and 2007 report) revealed this-----
Arts and culture organizations: 1,584
Audience economic impact: $352,681,956
Organization economic impact: $485,845,713
Total economic impact: $838,527,669

As of 2004, the number of FTE jobs in the arts and culture segment of our society was 22,095.
It and all these numbers have surely grown since the studies were done.

The report is at www.mncitizensforthearts.org/learn/artsresearch/driving-force

I can’t believe at this late date someone would still offer up these hackneyed arguments for massive pro football public subsidies.
I’ve actually reached the point where I do in fact argue that the Vikings are toxic influence on our culture, not an asset. I think we would be better off without them socially, politically, culturally, and economically. Socially they promote inequality, favoritism, selfishness. Politically they hijack our democracy, corrupt our process, siphon of limited government resources, and distort our priorities with these never ending stadium demands. Culturally they infantilize entertainment, monopolize attention, and restrict discourse. Economically they suck far more money out of our economy than they contribute, they compete unfairly with other entertainment options and venues, and divert public expenditures to their own ends rather than the communities.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a poorer candidate for public subsidy than a professional football franchise. This would be the largest government subsidy ever delivered to a private company in the history of MN. Unlike any other industry or franchise the Viking are literally prohibited from growing, they cannot hire more athletes, and they won’t hire any more staff. Nor is the new stadium significantly larger than the old one, so it will not generate significantly more sales of any kind. In other words, the Vikings subsidy will not yield any economic growth, it will simply move them from one place to the other.
A short comparison of a Vikings franchise to almost any other company quickly reveals the absurdity of giving the largest subsidy in history to the Vikings. The Vikings have 56 football players for whom their payroll is around $140 million a year. In any other industry $140 million payrolls would create thousands of jobs, with a football franchise you get 56 athletes. The Vikings sell around $45 million in gate receipts every year, the rest of their income comes from network deals and league revenue. Let’s compare that to a couple other businesses in the twin cities. Your average Costco has around 200 employees, and sells around $130 million dollars worth of merchandise annually. For $140 million dollars you could get around 4,000 $35,000 a year full time permanent Costco employees, that would be enough to staff 20 Costcos and generate $2.6 billion worth of sales. Again, in the NFL, $140 million gets you 56 players and $45 million worth of local ticket sales. No one’s talking about giving a billion dollars to Costco. Let’s look at another franchise, a McDonalds franchise. You’re average McDonalds employs almost as many people as there are Vikings players, around 50 people. I recently did some photography work for a McDonalds owner who was opening her 12th McDonalds franchise. This franchise owner has created around 600 permanent jobs in the twin cities, that’s six times as many as the Vikings, and those are year round jobs. No one’s talking about giving McDonald’s franchise owners a billion dollars even though they create hundreds of times more jobs and generate ten time the economic activity.
Just for kicks, remember the Vikings currently play at the dome; want to know how many full time people are employed at the dome? I’ll tell you: 19. That’s right, the Vikings with their 8 games a year at the dome are helping to support a whopping 19 full time jobs.
The fact is no one will die or even be seriously inconvenienced if the Vikings were to leave. NFL teams are not necessities of any kind, and they’ve become a toxic effect on our local culture, economy, and governments.

Is Mr. Tester advocating government interference in the free market? Knock me over with a feather.

It is important to remember that the Vikings have NO WHERE TO GO. The league wants other teams to leave their markets. Los Angeles does not have a new stadium, and Ziggy does not want to move there so her can be a minority partner.

Go ahead Ziggy, don't play in the Metrodome next season. You've got no where else to play. The NFL is far from abandoning the 15th largest market.

Actually the Vikings have no leverage at this point. They're the ones who need a stadium to play in, I don't see why they should get year to year leases at the dome, I say if they want to play, the sign a ten year lease.