Been by the Metrodome lately?
Somebody has taken a paintbrush to the place. It’s now partly purple and tarted up with gaudy Vikings posters like something out of “Friday Night Lights.” Think of it as a clever strategy for a new stadium: Make the old place look even tackier in the desperate hope that people will fall to their knees and beg, “Please, please! We’ll do anything to get rid of this eyesore!”
With the preseason home opener coming next week, fans will be getting their first look at the Dome since the Twins opened their tasteful new digs on the other end of downtown. It won’t be a pleasant comparison, even for tailgaters who’ve been drinking for hours.
Actually, the Dome may have only two football seasons left in it before somebody gets to push the plunger. (Torii Hunter has volunteered.)
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf insists his team won’t play at the Dome in 2012. The team’s lease expires after the 2011 season, setting up all kinds of intriguing scenarios. A new stadium, preferably on the same site, would be nice in the abstract. But the state is up against a $6 billion budget shortfall. Chances of prying loose the half-billion dollars it would take to strike a deal seem fairly remote. Hennepin County, meanwhile, the only local government big enough to play the stadium game, is feeling tapped out after stepping in to help the Twins.
That leaves Los Angeles, a mega-market with no NFL team. But the situation there is cloudy, too. Ed Roski, the real estate tycoon, had hoped by now to have poached a team from another city and to have begun construction on Los Angeles Stadium, a privately financed, fully approved outdoor bowl 20 miles east of downtown. But his effort has been slowed by the NFL’s focus on signing a labor deal with the players’ union, and by the emergence of a competing downtown proposal.
Tim Leiweke, whose company runs Staples Center, home of the Lakers, Clippers and Kings, and Casey Wasserman, the sports agent, are heading the downtown effort. Few details have been made public, but it looks like a showdown between Roski and Leiweke, who’s been instrumental in rebuilding downtown LA. A new privately financed downtown stadium would have a retractable roof and double as part of the city’s convention and entertainment complex.
Putting the vision ahead of the deal
Lacking Southern California’s private sector muscle, a Vikings stadium in the Twin Cities — as in most NFL markets — would require public money. But focusing almost entirely on the financial deal was a big reason why it took the Twins more than a decade to get approval for their new ballpark.
Maybe there’s something the Vikings can learn from the Twins’ experience. As part of a book project, I asked former Gov. Arne Carlson why the baseball team stumbled so badly in the early years of its quest. “The vision and the public buy-in should have come before the financing and the politics,” he told me. There was no clear vision of how a ballpark should look, where it should be and what a ballgame experience would be like, he said. Finding the money should have come after those things were set in the public mind.
I think Carlson’s point is a good one. Considering the rave reviews Target Field has been getting — ESPN magazine named it the nation’s top sports experience — the Vikings must vividly describe the game-day experience at a new football stadium and talk about specific benefits to the community. Now, with Target Field, people more clearly understand the Metrodome’s deficiencies. Before they agree to kick in for a new football stadium, however, they need to know precisely what they would be getting.
Horner comes close to offering a plan
It’s notable that none of the three candidates for governor is expressly opposed to a new Vikings stadium. Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer say they hope a deal can be struck as long as it doesn’t involve general-fund money. Independent Tom Horner has been the most forthcoming. He has listed four principles.
• The issue should be solved in the next legislative session, starting in January. No core services should be sacrificed. That includes economic development, job creation, education, health care, human services, infrastructure and the environment. The NFL must also resolve its labor issues before a bill is passed.
• A stadium should emerge from a partnership among the Vikings, the NFL, the business community and the public. The team must agree to a 40-year lease and to paying 40 percent of a new stadium’s capital costs and well as covering a third of its operating expenses. The stadium’s public owners should receive all revenues from non-Vikings events, including ticket sales, concessions, suite rentals and in-stadium advertising.
• Multiple funding options should be considered to cover the estimated $32 million to $34 million annual state cost on repaying 40-year bonds. Those who benefit most should pay most, meaning that taxes on tickets and drinks, and revenues from nonfootball events should be used to cover the costs.
• If the team is sold, any accrued value should be shared with the public in a proportion based on the public contribution.
Horner doesn’t specify a location (the Vikings’ current plan prefers the Metrodome site), but he does speak eloquently about the team as an asset. “Our state is blessed with an abundance of major league resources — from our lakes and parks to our theaters and museums. The Vikings are such an asset,” he says.
Horner suggests a stadium would bring in $26 million in annual tax revenues, create new construction jobs and attract other major sports and convention events. “But equally important,” he says, “are the intangible benefits of a team that for the past half-century has helped create a sense of statewide community and is an important asset in attracting and retaining top talent to Minnesota in all walks of life.”
Sounds like Horner is on board — except for the vision part.