Vikings landlord surprisingly optimistic about chance for new stadium — and other benefits it could bring

Here's one concept for a new Vikings stadium on the Dome site.
ROMA Design Group
Here’s one concept for a new Vikings stadium on the Dome site.

I sat down over lunch one day last week with Roy Terwilliger, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. A banker from Edina, Terwilliger was a leading Republican moderate in the state Senate from 1992 to 2003 before accepting Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s offer to chair the sports commission. The commission operates the Metrodome and, as landlord to the Minnesota Vikings, figures to play an important role in finding the team a new home.

Terwilliger is surprisingly optimistic about the prospects for a new stadium, although he sees the issue as less about keeping the Vikings than about leveraging all of the other benefits that hosting an NFL team brings: NCAA basketball tournaments, big concerts and trade shows, and a range of high school sports and other community events.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

MinnPost: Will the Legislature and new governor confront the Vikings’ stadium issue this session, and what will the outcome be?

Roy Terwilliger:
I think they will tackle the issue. The politics have changed to the point that people expect this to occur. I think there will be conditions to the debate, however. There will have to be a solution to the budget problem, and there must be certainty that health care for the elderly or that school kids aren’t caught in a dilemma before they get to a stadium solution. But I think that each of the three possibilities for governor is committed to lead on the issue and that a plan will emerge. Whether it passes is another question. The fact that the [Vikings’ lease] expires after next season adds some urgency that people now understand.

MP: What are the odds of a bill passing?

RT:
I think they’re quite good. This year, as opposed to last year, there have been a lot of quiet conversations to lay the groundwork for a solution.

MP: Will the Vikings work with the Commission or will the team go on a separate track, given the rocky relationship between the team and commission in recent months?

Roy Terwilliger
Roy Terwilliger

RT: I think they’ll work with us. They have been studying some other sites in [the northern suburbs], possibly Brookdale, or the 610/169 area where Target was going to build a campus, or maybe the Twin Cities arsenal site in Arden Hills, but I think rebuilding on the Metrodome site will emerge as the best alternative. The downside is having to play at the Gophers stadium for two seasons, but the long-term advantages, with all of the built-in infrastructure and all of the synergy with downtown, makes the Metrodome site the most efficient option going forward. It has 20 acres of land already owned by the public. And it’s at the intersection of two major freeways and two light rail lines.

MP: Does the overwhelming initial success of Target Field provide any lessons for the Vikings?

RT:
I think it absolutely does. On the political side, people come away with extremely favorable impressions of the new ballpark and the Gophers stadium, too. And so they understand the benefits better than they did. On the financial side, I think it’s clear that the Twins bill succeeded because they kept it simple. Everybody knew where the money was going to come from [the team and a 0.15 percent sales tax increase in Hennepin County]. They also had solid cost estimates that didn’t change. You could count on their numbers and on their word. They had the same people working on the issue year after year. That consistency was important.

MP: How does the possibility of a labor dispute next year between NFL owners and players affect your optimism?

RT:
It would be terrible, and a huge miscalculation on the part of the players and owners because, coming out of a recession like this, there would be lots of consternation again about billionaire owners and millionaire players. That would be very damaging to our efforts.

MP: Are you worried that the Wilf family, with no deep roots in the community, might not be so patient as the Pohlads were and might be more prone to moving or selling the team?

RT:
I don’t know. I think people may suspect that the Vikings won’t have as much staying power and that might help them understand the urgency.

MP: For almost 20 years now we’ve been arguing about whether professional sports are important to the community, both from an economic and cultural standpoint. Do we need to continue that, or are we over it?

RT:
I look at the issue a bit differently. I think it’s important to keep the Vikings here not just because of the team’s popularity but because having the team as a tenant in a public facility like an updated Metrodome makes it possible to have all kinds of other activities that benefit the community [high school football tournaments, concerts, NCAA basketball tournaments and other big events]. The media like to focus on this project as just a Vikings stadium, but it’s more than that. The Vikings are immensely popular, don’t get me wrong. We’re the 12th- or 13th-largest market in the country, so out of 32 NFL teams, it’s important that we have a presence — that we’re not flyover country. I think it would be a mistake to turn our back on the NFL for all kinds of reasons.

MP: Is a privately financed NFL stadium possible in this market?

RT:
I doubt it. The two contemporary examples of that are Foxboro [New England Patriots] and Fed Ex [Washington Redskins]. Going private is not how most of the other teams have gone. Even the new Dallas Cowboys stadium has a lot of public money in it. A few years ago, the Wilfs were looking at parcels of land around the Metrodome for housing and other development opportunities that could have been part of the package, but then the housing market went down and they backed away from that.

MP: The focus here has always been to get a local government as a sports team’s partner. With a price tag approaching $900 million, is there any local government large enough to handle this project?

RT:
Hennepin County is probably the only one, but it has a lot on its plate. The seven-county metro is a possibility but I don’t know if the Met Council wants to jump into this. One idea that emerged from the focus groups was a very small statewide sales tax, say a tenth of 1 percent. That would do it, but a lot of legislators would want a referendum on that. I’m not so sure a referendum would fail.

MP: Having a lame duck administration in office at this point, does that hurt the project?

RT:
Maybe. My term expires in January. There are three or four people who really understand financially how this could get done. It would be good to keep those people somehow together. As for the cost, I think it could come down. The first estimate was $954 million. Then we refined it down to $870 million. I think you could get it to $750 million by eliminating a few things like the VIP parking structure, and maybe making the roof permanent instead of retractable. If the Vikings paid 40 percent and you picked up some revenue from user fees, that might leave $400 million for the public to cover. That’s still $45 million to $50 million a year in debt service, but the Vikings’ income taxes would cover half of that. So we’re getting down to a number that’s still large but not quite as large as people think. It would be nice to find a way to do this with an ongoing source of revenue, as the Twins did, so that big debts don’t pile up. You read about some of these stadiums carrying huge debt loads years and years after they were built, and that’s not an attractive thing.

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Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/27/2010 - 07:23 am.

    I am not aware of any recent facility that appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment and no recent facility has been self-financing in terms of its impact on net tax revenues.

    The only reason more franchise owners decline to construct their own stadiums is because taxpayers so often relieve them of the need to do so.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/27/2010 - 09:39 am.

    Oh boy, more Vikings fodder for the commentators.

    I tend to agree that there is more support quietly for the Vikings Stadium, in the legislature than most legislators are willing to publicly admit. But a lot also depends on the shape of the state government that emerges from the election and the political atmosphere in St. Paul. Right now, Mr. Terwilliger’s assumption which seems to be that all the health care, education, and deficit issues will be solved, leaving everyone free to address stadium issues in a productive way, strikes me as just a bit optimistic.

    A basic thing to understand is that a Twins stadium got built only after a political solution was found which allowed the legislature to avoid direct responsibility for it. That took years, and the solution that was ultimately found, Hennepin County coming forward and taking responsibility, is pretty much off the table now. Whether the seven counties will do it remains to be seen, but I know that as a starting point, I would argue that Hennepin County shouldn’t be part of any such arrangement unless the seven counties also assume their proper share of the cost of the Twins Stadium. I am tired of paying for one stadium from which I don’t receive a direct benefit. I am strongly opposed to paying for two.

  3. Submitted by Bob Quarrels on 09/27/2010 - 10:10 am.

    “Might not be as patient as the Pohlads”? Let’s not canonize the Pohlads. They said they were moving the team to North Carolina, and then came the “contraction” idea. Neither option was possible and there weren’t any others. That’s what made them patient.

    There are sensible ways to give the Vikings what they want, such as recapturing Viking-related income taxes (as Terwilliger notes) and a statewide tax. Brookdale seems like a sensible site. The Vikes wouldn’t have to play at the U. There could be real tailgating. Brooklyn Center could use the boost, and it’s time a big metro project came north of town.

    The state, however, needs to be sensible in negotiating. The Vikes may have a valid option in Los Angeles, but it’s not perfect. The stadium backers there want to own the club, for one thing, and other teams have their eyes on it, too. Let’s hope the public’s representatives are resolute and canny enough to drive a good bargain.

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/27/2010 - 10:11 am.

    //”A basic thing to understand is that a Twins stadium got built only after a political solution was found which allowed the legislature to avoid direct responsibility for it.”//

    No truer words have been written regarding the stadium debate…..

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/27/2010 - 10:20 am.

    “I am not aware of any recent facility that appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment and no recent facility has been self-financing in terms of its impact on net tax revenues.”

    Just as a general observation, no one who has ever in the history of stadium disputes who has relied on financial or economic arguments has ever won the debate, and in saying that I would go back even to the decision to build the Colosseum in Rome, where the argument was doubtlessly made that lions could eat Christians more cost effectively elsewhere. Nevertheless, stadiums do get built, and both advocates and opponents of new stadium construction should focus their attention on strategies, that succeed, more than on those that fail.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/27/2010 - 10:21 am.

    Amen to both of the above comments.

    When I searched “When did the Vikings last pay rent on the Metrodome,” I found a posting from Neil LeMeuse (11-18-2009, Minnesota Vikings) in which he says the Vikings have paid NO RENT SINCE the year 2000, “after whining that none of their other NFL friends have to pay rent.”

    This shows how easy it was for the Vikings to get out of paying a truly modest $400,000 per year for the privilege of using the Dome and the extensive infrastructure also provided by Minnesota taxpayers.

    What might Mr. Wilf wish to whine his way out of during negotiations for a new stadium?

  7. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 09/27/2010 - 10:34 am.

    Using the state budget and issues like health & education to delay stadium issue discussions is not wise.

    I think legislators and citizen-taxpayer-voters should be capable of conducting concurrent conversations about all issues big and small. Consider it walking and chewing gun at the same time.

    HUSH & RUSH has been a strategy that keep stadium discussions behind closed doors for all but the last few weeks of legislative sessions.

    A stadium bill cannot be fully “vetted” during the last 2 or 3 weeks of a legislative session.

    …and since a good stadium bill should be good for the Vikings and good for Minnesota, the stadium deal should be a win-win and in reality should increase revenues or at least not take revenues from the city, county, or state. Only tax revenues that would go away along with the Vikings franchise if a new stadium isn’t built should be public contributions under consideration.

  8. Submitted by T J Simplot on 09/27/2010 - 10:37 am.

    I think it is also noteworthy that none of the Hennepin County commissioners who voted for the Twins Stadium lost their reelection bids, all of which came after the vote.

  9. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 09/27/2010 - 11:11 am.

    It is grossly offensive to hear Mr. Terwilliger say we must take care of the poor and the old and that li’l old $6 Billion deficit before we lavish a billion on a new football stadium. “Please, Legislature! We just can’t take your money until you take care of the more pressing needs in out state. Thanks, but no thanks.”
    Right. Make me gag.
    If ever there was an agency that should have had a sunset law, the Sports Facilities Commission is it. Rather than propagating itself by peddling Stadium Porn and non-stop efforts to make itself into a footstool, the commission ought to go out of business and be replaced, when and if that might be necessary, with another agency to own and operate another public stadium.
    If. One. Is. Built.
    That decision has nothing to do with the MSFC, and the commission should have nothing to say until that decision is made.

  10. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/27/2010 - 11:25 am.

    $954 million for a new stadium?????

    Well, here’s a better idea. According to Forbes, the value of the Vikes today is $835 million. Offer that to Wilf (he makes a ton on his investment…the community save over $100 million…we KEEP the Vikes as a COMMUNITY-OWNED asset…the public enjoys any increases in valuation…and we employ the Green Bay model of NFL ownership.

    Mostly it gets us out of the bag of threatening owners, an issue which will NEVER go away unless we get wonership imbedded in the community

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/27/2010 - 11:31 am.

    I am often offended by how easily people are offended. This is big boy and girl stuff. We, in this state, have a lot of issues to sort out, and it doesn’t make sense to make decisions on those issues on how high any particular individual’s dudgeon is.

    What Mr. Terwilliger may be suggesting is that stadium issues may play an as yet undefined and undetermined role in a comprehensive settlement which might very well include matters of far more importance than where the Vikings play their little football matches. I don’t have the same perspective as Mr. Terwilliger, and I am sure I wouldn’t agree with all he thinks or says. But my impression is that according to his lights, he wants what’s best for Minnesota, and I like to think that I will always be willing to work with such people respectfully and I hope effectively, for the mutual benefit of us all.

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/27/2010 - 12:28 pm.

    “Well, here’s a better idea. According to Forbes, the value of the Vikes today is $835 million.”

    Out of respect for the moderators of this board, I will try to avoid being specific about where Forbes magazine pulls these kinds of numbers. Let’s just say Forbes and reality are on two different tracks.

    I don’t want to be in the football business. I never know when to call a blitz. And I can tell you that if we paid 835 million dollars for Vikings without a new stadium, we won’t be able to afford to stay in the football business very long.

  13. Submitted by Alicia DeMatteo on 09/27/2010 - 12:46 pm.

    Why Hennepin County again (Yes, I realize the stadiums are in Hennepin so please don’t point that out to me)?

    Are we changing the the teams’ names to the Hennepin County Twins and the Hennepin County Vikings?

  14. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 09/27/2010 - 01:03 pm.

    Alicia… there are statewide benefits from keeping the Vikings in MN and then there are city and county benefits wherever the new Vikings stadium is built.

    Some of the benefits are so localized they only apply to a few block radius around the stadium. Looks at the profit “windfalls” businesses near Target Field are experiencing and the increased property values.

    Whatever the funding from public sources turns out to be, it should come from the city, county, and state and should be based on the benefits each receives from keeping the Vikings in MN.

    ….and yes, I don’t think funding Target Field with only a Hennepin County sales tax is proper and I think the referendum “waiver” was egregious.

  15. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/27/2010 - 01:04 pm.

    “Why Hennepin County again (Yes, I realize the stadiums are in Hennepin so please don’t point that out to me)?”

    It shouldn’t be Hennepin County who once again picks up the bill for what would be a state-wide asset. Hennepin County shouldn’t be paying for the Twins Stadium but they are, and that isn’t for any economic or financial reason. That was simply the political solution that worked.

  16. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 09/27/2010 - 01:53 pm.

    I hate the Vikings but I don’t know if I want them to leave.

    Either way, for the sake of argument, let’s say a stadium is built. It should be funde d by none other than the seven-county metro area via the Met Council. It would be a step in the right direction of accomplishing things BY the metro area FOR the metro area. Finally we would be acting as a unified city, which, economically-speaking, is what we are. It would bypass the destructive division between Minneapolis/St Paul, and to a lesser extent, the two counties.

    Hennepin County should have had to pick up the tab for Target Field. The burden should be shared by the whole of the Twin Cities area.

  17. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 09/27/2010 - 01:55 pm.

    Hiram… want a simple and political solution that just might work for a new Vikings stadium?

    It will take another referendum “waiver” to overcome the 1997 citizen driven vote which placed a $10 million stadium contribute limit on the City of Minneapolis. Remember that?

    Take the city’s entertainment and others extra sales taxes that are currently funding the convention center and use them to fund the Vikings stadium. Since there no way a referendum would pass, just have legislators who don’t live in Mpls. and Hennepin County pass it and allow Hennepin County legislators to vote against it.

    It will take a 40-year funding plan and a “flexible” 40-year lease, but what the heck….. we all know the stadium will be obsolete long before it’s paid for and most likely the current Vikings ownership will be long gone.

    This plan was one of the two plans proposed at the end of the last legislative session. Would you support it, Hiram?

  18. Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/27/2010 - 02:19 pm.

    Terwilliger gets it backwards:
    “We’re the 12th- or 13th-largest market in the country, so out of 32 NFL teams, it’s important that we have a presence — that we’re not flyover country. I think it would be a mistake to turn our back on the NFL for all kinds of reasons.”

    I don’t understand this mentality that says we have to bend over backwards for the privilege of being marketed to by the NFL. Their entire business model is geared on selling 1) advertising and 2) NFL branded jerseys and the like. And to support this enterprise, we’re supposed to kick in public dollars to induce them to operate here? I don’t get it.

  19. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/27/2010 - 03:22 pm.

    Games and circuses once were provided by government. How better to satiate the desire of the Roman masses than to entertain them in the Arena?

    Governments build stadiums to attract sports franchises for the same purpose. But the American masses seem to be tiring of transferring billions of dollars to billionaire team owners.

  20. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/27/2010 - 04:28 pm.

    “Take the city’s entertainment and others extra sales taxes that are currently funding the convention center and use them to fund the Vikings stadium. Since there no way a referendum would pass, just have legislators who don’t live in Mpls. and Hennepin County pass it and allow Hennepin County legislators to vote against it.”

    How would the revenues diverted from the convention center to the stadium be replaced? I thought it was very bad policy to put the burden of the Twins Stadium on Hennepin County taxpayers, and I think the same would be true for a Vikings Stadium.

    I don’t think outstate legislators should impose taxes on Minneapolis over the opposition of Minneapolis legislators, and I think that’s particularly true when it’s for things, like professional sports stadiums that benefit the whole state.

  21. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 09/27/2010 - 06:47 pm.

    Hiram… I was just joking. I certainly don’t support another Twins style funding solution for the Vikings…. but you’re the one who said the Twins stadium bill “was simply the political solution that worked.”

  22. Submitted by John Jordan on 09/27/2010 - 07:12 pm.

    The Brookdale location is good. It’s got the land, highways, restaurants, hotels, etc.

    I also like the Brooklyn Park option. Highway 610, a renovated 169 (Devils Triangle completed), enough land for tailgating and the areas that Target still would own that they promised restaurants and hotels. Plus Opat owes them for dissing them during the Twins run for the stadium, shilling for downtown interests and completely ignoring who he represented and who elected him.

  23. Submitted by Susan Lesch on 09/27/2010 - 10:53 pm.

    MinnPost gave both Mr. Berg and Mr. Weiner headlines to publicize a Vikings stadium (last and this week). Sorry to say, MinnPost lost my financial support for next year.

  24. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/28/2010 - 06:52 am.

    “but you’re the one who said the Twins stadium bill “was simply the political solution that worked.”

    An ill chosen word, maybe. Worked in the sense that the deal got done, and the stadium got built. And maybe in the sense that people are satisfied with it, although I do believe there is a lot more anger out there about it than the media would have you believe.

    But the Twins Stadium is an example of what happens when you don’t view these matters as a business deal, and emotional posturing rules the day. Of all possible stadium deals, the one we made for Twins Stadium was, I believe, among the worst. It placed the entire burden of the Twins Stadium on Hennepin County and it’s taxpayers, very few of whom see any benefit of any kind at all from it.

    Stadiums are a statewide asset, and if and when the decision to build new one is made, the burden should be borne statewide.

  25. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/28/2010 - 06:53 am.

    Brookdale-wise, that would seem the obvious solution, but the Vikings are dead set against it, so unless that changes, it’s a non-starter.

  26. Submitted by T J Simplot on 09/28/2010 - 08:13 am.

    “It placed the entire burden of the Twins Stadium on Hennepin County and it’s taxpayers, very few of whom see any benefit of any kind at all from it.”

    Since the stadium tax is a sales tax it is paid by anyone who purchases taxable items in Hennepin county. This includes much more than just Hennepin County residents, such as the millions of visitors to the Mall of America.

  27. Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/28/2010 - 08:23 am.

    “Brookdale-wise, that would seem the obvious solution, but the Vikings are dead set against it, so unless that changes, it’s a non-starter.”

    Again, I’m left wondering why we (the public) are doing all the accomodating. If the Vikings have strict requirements regarding what kind of facility in which they wish to play their games, perhaps the Vikings should be writing all the checks.

  28. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 09/28/2010 - 08:36 am.

    I believe the city, county, and state would all benefit in different ways by keeping the Vikings in MN and each should contribute to the funding of a new stadium project. I even believe there should be federal stimulus money involved in the construction of the $40 – $50 million Winter Garden light rail station that’s been proposed as infrastructure for Metrodome Next.

    Conside the localized economic impact of Target Field.

    Some of the local benefits involve the inter-jurisdictional transfers of public funds, commercial activity, and tax revenues.

    …and of course Target Field is a great ballpark, but how could you spend $550 million and not build a great ballpark?

  29. Submitted by Mohammed Ali Bin Shah on 09/28/2010 - 08:38 am.

    I find it interesting that no one has suggested that the people who GO TO THE GAMES (and therefore the most ardent supporters) should pay for it.

    Personal Seat Licenses, at $10K a pop average for 40,000 Season Ticket holders will get us half-way there. It will also lock in those folks to buying tickets for years to come after Favre retires and the team gets even worse than it has been. The Vikes pay the rest. Problem solved.

    Or, how about a special tax on all Vikings licensed merchandise sold, or all NFL licensed products sold in the state.

    Or how about a $50 surcharge/tax/recoupment fee on every ticket sold for the next 40 years.

    Really, I don’t care what happens as long as I do not have to pay for any of it.

  30. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/28/2010 - 09:01 am.

    “Since the stadium tax is a sales tax it is paid by anyone who purchases taxable items in Hennepin county.”

    I feel pretty confident that the vast majority of money spent in Hennepin County is spent by Hennepin County residents. And I am certain that the tax burdens all retail businesses operating in Hennepin County for no good reason I can see.

    “I’m left wondering why we (the public) are doing all the accommodating.”

    As far as I can see, we have done very little accommodating at all. What’s going on between the Vikings and our community is a negotiation. In just about every negotiation, there is more give on some issues than others. The Vikings have told us there is no give at all on the Brookdale site, and we pretty much take them at their word, and move on.

    “Consider the localized economic impact of Target Field.”

    I don’t think anyone in the history of stadium building has ever won the economic argument and stadiums only get built when their supporters find ways to sidestep such arguments. That’s exactly what happened with the Twins Stadium.

    This is not to say that some people in the community won’t benefit from the Twins Stadium. The minimum wage job providing bar business in the vicinity of the stadium is probably thriving on game nights. But on the whole, in narrow economic terms, it’s pretty much a big hole in the ground in which the taxpayers of Hennepin County are pretty much required to dump their hard earned money which really could be better spent elsewhere.

    In my view, the economic argument for stadiums, particularly a Vikings Stadium which will be used maybe only a couple of dozen times a year in ways that are profitable extraordinarily weak, I think the economic argument is far from being the only argument for building stadiums, although it is one of the least compelling.

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