Stadium proposal: Two wrongs don’t make a right

Four months ago, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman floated a novel idea — taking “a regional approach” to the funding of sports facilities like the proposed Vikings stadium.

Chris Coleman
Chris Coleman

The details of Coleman’s plan are open to debate. But it makes little sense to continue using the politically expedient model that Minnesota has employed — relying upon a single city or county to provide a major share of the funding for facilities that are of regional, if not statewide, benefit.

If you examine the issue of a new Vikings stadium [PDF] from a regional perspective, you have to conclude that (a) Arden Hills is the wrong location and (b) a half-percent sales tax limited to Ramsey County is the wrong funding source.

Building a 65,000-seat, $1.1 billion stadium in a relatively remote suburban location:

• Fails to take advantage of the $2 billion this region has invested in rail transit. Instead, it drains the transit system of current riders. About one in seven Vikings fans travel to and from games at the Metrodome via light rail transit (LRT), commuter rail or bus, according to Metro Transit.

• Requires 13 road and bridge improvements costing $101 million, just $20 million of which are currently programmed.

• Calls for the construction of 21,000 parking spaces that would be fully utilized perhaps a dozen times a year.

Why Vikings back plan
There’s no mystery why the Vikings ownership favors locating the stadium on a portion of the 2,400-acre site formerly occupied by Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP).

It would allow the team to capture all of the revenue from parking, as well as the sale of food and beverages. After all, there aren’t a lot of bars and restaurants to compete for pre-game or post-game business.

For the region as a whole, it makes far more sense to locate a new stadium on one of two so-called Farmers Market sites near downtown Minneapolis — within walking distance of Hiawatha LRT, Northstar commuter rail, the soon-to-be completed Central Corridor LRT line and the 7,000-space ABC parking ramps.

Either of the Farmers Market sites would be directly served by the proposed $1.25 billion Southwest Corridor LRT line, which is now in preliminary engineering.

The Southwest Corridor LRT line, which would run from Eden Prairie to Target Field, would “interline” with the Central Corridor LRT line — with the same trains running from Eden Prairie all the way to downtown St. Paul and vice versa.

This means a rider who boarded in Eden Prairie could ride the same train all the way to downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota or St. Paul. Similarly, a rider who boarded in St. Paul could ride the same train to Target Field or a Vikings stadium located at Farmers Market.

A stadium in the Farmers Market area also would complement the sports and entertainment district in the North Loop area, home to a growing number of bars, restaurants and theaters. It is far more likely to generate spinoff development than the Arden Hills site.

The Farmers Market sites — one 23 acres and one 28 acres — admittedly have drawbacks. Both have multiple owners, making land assembly more challenging. One would displace the market and the other would displace Sharing and Caring Hands, a charity that provides food and shelter to the homeless.

A study commissioned early this year by the city of Minneapolis has estimated that using one of these sites would cost up to $111 million more than reuse of the Metrodome location.

However, some of this cost would be offset by the revenue lost by the Vikings if the Metrodome site were used and the team had to play at TCF Stadium during the three or more seasons while a new stadium was under construction.

Risky deal
Then there’s the issue of financing. As the Metropolitan Council study released last week highlighted, the proposed funding for the local share of the Arden Hills stadium is a risky deal for the taxpayers of St. Paul and Ramsey County.

To generate the $350 million local share of the stadium’s cost, Ramsey County would levy an additional 0.5 percent sales tax. That’s more than three times the tax Hennepin County imposed to help fund the construction of Target Field.

It would result in St. Paul having the highest sales tax in the state, a competitive disadvantage that the metro area’s smaller “twin” doesn’t need.

And even this tax levy may not be enough. Under the county’s agreement with the Vikings, it has agreed to fund a potential additional $58 million in cost overruns, bringing the total county share to $408 million in a worst case scenario.

As the Met Council report pointed out, the county “would need to find additional revenue sources to fund cost overruns.”

Professional sports teams are a regional and statewide amenity, and should be funded from regional and statewide sources. Mayor Coleman proposed a 2-cents-a-drink statewide tax for sports facilities, which he said would generate $48 million a year.

Another option would be a region-wide sales tax, which could be used to create an economic development fund for sports facilities and other purposes. It would complement the Twin Cities economic development and marketing efforts unveiled last week by Greater MSP.

For St. Paul and Ramsey County, a modest consolation prize would be to include $27 million in the stadium package to help fund a new 7,000-seat urban ballpark in Lowertown for the Saints and amateur baseball.

Such a ballpark would be a magnet for the lively new entertainment district in Lowertown, as well as for the housing being developed there. It also would support the new Central Corridor LRT line, generating an estimated 50,000 additional transit rides a year.

Midway Stadium, the current home of the Saints and more than 100 amateur games a year, is in far worse condition than the Metrodome. It can be replaced for a tiny fraction of the cost of a new Vikings stadium.

There are ample reasons to question the use of public funds for new sports facilities, especially given the dubious economics of professional sports. But if we want to retain the pro football, the region deserves a better deal than the one the team and Ramsey County are pushing.

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Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/17/2011 - 11:17 am.

    $1 billion, 65,000 seats: $15,384.00 per seat.

    8 home games a year, 30 years: 240 games.

    $15,384.00 over 240 games: $64.10 per seat, per game. Our share: $39.10 per seat, per game. (The good seats for next week’s game – lower level – now cost $90 to $143. The cheap seats – upper level – range from $15 to $143. Think tickets will be any cheaper in 2015? I’ve got a Dome I’d like to sell you.)

    This does not include financing costs and the county’s annual $2.5 million obligation.

    In return, we get . . . what? A semi-pro football team that roughly 1% of the state’s population can see play live 8 days a year and the rest of the fans can watch on television, if the team can sell out a substantially larger facility than it has now.

    In return, we forego: private development of the site from which the county would derive property tax revenue; development rights on 170 acres, control of which is ceded to Mr. Wilf; a 30 year lease, which we can count on the Viking scoming back to renegotiate in far less time, just as they did at the Dome; impairment of Ramsey County’s future credit rating and its bonding ability; the highest sales tax rate in the state, at a time when a front-running Republican candidate for the Oval Office is promising a 9% national sales tax; another state-operated lottery ( a voluntary tax on the ignorant); a lower level of enironmental clean-up than would be required for some other forms of development, because we’re simply going to pave over so mauch of it; a white elephant on the east edge of downtown Minneapolis.

    Jobs? Give me a net number (new jobs, not jobs transferred from the Dome) and tell me how many of those jobs will be filled by Ramsey County and Minnesota residents. Until then, please bear in mind that I am allergic to smoke.

    Finally, you just gotta’ love the Vikings commitment to honesty and full disclosure. They commit to:

    “Payment of any and all annual stadium operating expenses (estimated at $14

    . . . off set by $1.5 milion Ramsey County annual contribution).”

    In other words, we’ll pay all 89.3% of project operating costs.

    Regardless of who pays for this, we’re being taken for a ride. I resent being one of those being asked to pay both as a Minnesotan and a Ramsey County resident. If we have $650 million to spend on business and job development, is there really no better way to do it?

  2. Submitted by David Greene on 10/17/2011 - 11:23 am.

    Good analysis, Steve. There’s not much I can add except this: Arden Hills is not meant to be just a stadium. Wilf wants to put retail, hotels, probably a convention center, etc. there. He’s a real-estate developer.

    St. Paul should be very worried about this. St. Paul leaders need to talk to the folks at City Center and Gaviidae in Minneapolis to see what Mall of America did to them. Frankly, the sales tax is a small burden to St. Paul businesses when compared to what an Arden Hills retail complex would do to their bottom lines.

    One thing I dislike about the Farmers’ Market proposals is that the Vikings stadium will be at the completely wrong scale for the area. Target Field works well because its exterior blends in with its surroundings. It’s a big building, but not the behemoth the Vikings stadium will be. A Vikings stadium will be much taller and much broader than the baseball park.

    That’s why I’d prefer the Metrodome site but any downtown site is far preferable to Arden Hills.

    A Lowertown Saints park would be great for the area. I know I’d stay after work now and then if I could walk to the ballpark and take in a game. I think it would bring some night life into a downtown that desperately needs it.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/17/2011 - 11:42 am.

    Well said, Steve. Indeed, two wrongs don’t make a right, and while I remain opposed to the notion of taxpayer-subsidized sports facilities, I’m also aware of a certain air of inevitability to this one. I guess a new, $18 million roof on the Metrodome isn’t enough.

    Be that as it may, if we’re going to subsidize Mr. Wilf’s fortune by adding taxpayer dollars to it, let’s at least try to keep that subsidy to a minimum. A site that makes use of existing infrastructure and mass transit, and that ties into transit expansion, with easy connection to St. Paul, makes eminently more sense, politically and economically, than the Arden Hills proposal, which ignores virtually every development and planning consideration in order to provide Mr. Wilf with an opportunity – at taxpayer expense – to develop an isolated site for his own benefit.

    Even some of us who don’t live in Ramsey County think it’s more than a little unfair to ask the residents of St. Paul and Ramsey County to pick up a substantial share of the cost for this boondoggle. I don’t care even a little about the Vikings, but lots of other people do, and if a new stadium is what’s required to keep professional football here, the region, as Steve said, can do far better than the current Arden Hills proposal.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/17/2011 - 12:01 pm.

    As a St. Paul resident, I would be more than happy to pay a higher sales tax to help the city maintain the essential (and beyond) services and programs it is bound to lose as the right-wing legislature cuts LGA by 25% per year until it vanishes. (LGA is a misnomer, by the way, since it is but a portion of what we pay in real estate taxes, NOT an aid program.)

    I would also be happy to pay for the new Saints stadium, which would also be used for high school sports and other programs benefitting the people of St. Paul and supporting light rail.

    BUT to expect one small and intentionally strapped (by the legislature) segment of the state to pay hundreds of millions of dollars toward a stadium that has only one purpose — to increase the wealth of Zygi Wilf — is obscene.

    Does anyone know how many Ramsey County residents actually attend games? How many can afford tickets for the additional high-buck suites that Zygi wants to make available to the wealthy and to corporate entities? That, I think, would be interesting to know.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/17/2011 - 12:05 pm.

    Perhaps us residents of Ramsey County who oppose this boondoggle should ALL send letters to every member of the County Board who supports it to let them know that we will absolutely not vote for their re-election.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/17/2011 - 12:23 pm.

    Don’t count on being able to watch it on television, the league has made deals blacking out games on broadcast tv, so unless you have cable, you may not even be able to watch the games your paying for on tv. Of course the team hasn’t stepped up to offer to pay for you cable.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/17/2011 - 12:37 pm.

    The premise of the article is actually a little off. The first question you have to ask is just what kind of “asset” is this team? Then you can ask how much it’s worth, and whether or not you want to pay a billion dollars for it.

    Well, right now it’s a $12 million a year asset since that the amount of income tax we collect from the team and visiting players. If you spend more than $15 million bucks you convert this asset into a $30 million a year liability.

    All of the other economic activity is general activity that doesn’t disappear with the team- think about the 355 days a year we have no Vikings football, is the economy or culture depressed in any meaningful way on the vast majority of days we have no Viking football? Furthermore, we get Zero economic expansion for a billion dollars, we just move the team from MPLS to Arden Hills. This would be one of if not THE most expensive state subsidy in history, just to move a team?

    Even if you just look at the construction jobs, we’ll be creating around 800 (full time equivalent) job for a million bucks a piece. That about $900,000 more per job than any economist recommends. At that rate you’re not going to get the multiplier effects, in other words their are to many short duration jobs to encourage expanded economic activity.

    On top of all that you have Dornfeld’s correct argument that the Arden Hills site is wrong for sooooo many reasons.

    Another thing Dornfeld is partially right about is Ziggy’s reason for wanting this site. Wilf is obviously getting a lot more acreage than he needs for a stadium with this site, clearly he has plans beyond the stadium. This is basically just a public subsidy for an out of state billionaire’s real estate project. Given the location of the project, and current economic trends, it’s probably a bad real estate venture to begin with.

  8. Submitted by T J Simplot on 10/17/2011 - 01:00 pm.

    This stadium would not just be for the vikings. Does anyone remember the 100’s of events that had to be cancelled just in the first month when the roof collapsed?

  9. Submitted by Fritz Dahmus on 10/17/2011 - 01:44 pm.

    I need to say first of all: I think this kind of public spending of money should never occur, because it doesn’t have to. The NFL and Ziggi Wolfe have shown they have plenty of money to fund this. But history tells them they don’t need to so they ask….we should not blame them. It is our fault for saying yes in the past (here and in other cities).

    I understand why public projects need to be next to public infrastructure. After all that is why we build the public infrastructure to support public projects, areas, facilities (whatever you want to call them). It’s mostly our money involved…so we get to say what goes where! So yes, the Farmer’s Market is where it should go….and as I have said, the public has a major say in this because of our majority percentage in the financing. The Vikings have less of a say.

    But in typical MinnPost fashion it is riddled with lefty talking points…it really is tiring. I won’t go into everything, but a major arguement is that Arden Hills is a “remote” suburban location without infrastructure. Do you ever get out?? Maybe on your way to the cabin?? You know that very first bottle neck that you hit going north out of another remote location, Roseville, well that is Arden Hills (about 10 minutes away from each DT…with traffic moving as it should). The bottle neck is an antiquated interesection of two interstates….694 and 35W!! Isn’t that infrastructure???? Maybe not your kind of infrastructure. From the article, 6 out of 7 Viking game attendees would drive these interstates to get there. Or maybe a US highway called US 10. Don’t they count?

    Yes, because of neglect this area is a major bottleneck of public infrastructure that needs to be upgrade whether the Viking Stadium gets built in Arden Hills or not. 150,000 cars a hour through here is not exactly a definition of remote.

    MinnPost, I agree with your assesment…but you always try to hard to use the lefty arguments….instead of the rational ones. Major public money has been spent on the downtowns, we should stay focused and keep the stadium in a downtown location. I agree, but lighten up on the lefty B.S.

  10. Submitted by Stan Hooper on 10/17/2011 - 02:26 pm.

    I want to get this straight — we disenfranchise the business revenue and the social benefits made throughout the summer by taking out the farmers’ markets in order to run only a dozen ball games a year and at the same time you mention that the same number of ball games would be a mere dozen uses a year at maximum at ANY venue with one apparently having much more value from that game number perspective. Plus, in either case, we soak some component of the taxpaying public whether they attend the games or not, and expect those taxpayers to be totally satisfied with the proportions paid by them, by government and by those who expect to reap the profits thereafter.
    I think I’ve got it.

  11. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/17/2011 - 02:32 pm.

    The article makes a lot of good points. I especially like the point about any stadium in downtown Minneapolis. But if we must have a new stadium (which I don’t believe we do), rather than the Farmers’ Market sites, why not tear down the Metrodome and rebuild on the site already there?

  12. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/17/2011 - 02:43 pm.

    Realistically, transit options play no consideration in sports venue location.

    The vast majority of the ‘commuters’ to these events park their vehicles in the free parking zone nearest to the event and ride the rails into the game.

    So, oddly enough, the people who can’t afford to go to the games are subsidizing the ride from the free parking to game of the people who can go to the game.

    The only transit option that the game-goers want is the cheapest parking as close as they can get to the venue.

  13. Submitted by T J Simplot on 10/17/2011 - 02:50 pm.

    I’m going to sound like a broken record. The tax would be paid by ANYONE who makes purchases in Ramsey County, not just Ramsey County residents.

    I’m sure there are lots of people who shop at Rosedale and/or work downtown and at the capital who will be spending money in Ramsey County who aren’t residents.

  14. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/17/2011 - 02:52 pm.

    (#8) Your use of the phrase “100’s” is way off. Do you think all of those events could be transferred to the new stadium?

    The building of a new stadium instantly means that the Metrodome is no longer financially viable, even if all other events remain at the Metrodome. No matter how many monster-truck rallies or Hmong New Year celebrations or high-school tournaments, it will not be viable.

    What is the cost of that?

    By the way, the Pontiac Silverdome, the same building as the Metrodome, recently sold for under $600,000. That’s right, $600,000.

    What is the loss on that? It would cost more to demo the dome.

  15. Submitted by David Greene on 10/17/2011 - 04:02 pm.

    One other thing to remember is that the county’s share is not really $350 million. That doesn’t count financing. In truth the bill is really in the $500-$600 million range. That is why the Met Council report states that the bill jeopardizes future infrastructure projects in the county.

    The stadium financing exhausts a great deal of the county’s borrowing leverage, if not all of it. Bonding will be much harder for the county to do for the next 30 years.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/17/2011 - 04:14 pm.

    Jay #8,

    We already have a venue for all those other events, we don’t need to build a new stadium for that. This IS for the Vikings, or rather the Wilf brothers. Imagine a scenario where the “people” wanted a new stadium, but the franchise owners didn’t… do you think we’d talking about building a new stadium?

  17. Submitted by Susanna Patterson on 10/17/2011 - 04:23 pm.

    There’s always Los Angeles. Maybe they would become a “winning team” if they changed their surroundings; maybe that California city would be glad to build them a stadium.

  18. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/17/2011 - 05:50 pm.

    I’m e-mailing this article to the County commissioners with the request that they read all the comments made by readers as well as the article itself.

  19. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/18/2011 - 05:43 am.

    “For the region as a whole, it makes far more sense to locate a new stadium on one of two so-called Farmers Market sites near downtown Minneapolis — within walking distance of Hiawatha LRT, Northstar commuter rail, the soon-to-be completed Central Corridor LRT line and the 7,000-space ABC parking ramps”

    But those are also reasons for keeping the Farmers’ Market where it is.

  20. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/18/2011 - 06:09 am.

    Let me put it this way. The fact that the Farmers’ Market location is an easy place to get to, isn’t a persuasive argument for putting a Vikings Stadium there. How important is accessibility by mass transit for a facility which will only be used 8 times a year, mostly on Sundays, to which people are willing to drive?

  21. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/18/2011 - 07:45 am.

    //How important is accessibility by mass transit for a facility which will only be used 8 times a year, mostly on Sundays, to which people are willing to drive?

    See I wonder about this. How many people are really going to be willing to drive? The price of parking and tickets will be going up along with the inconvenience, won’t more people choose to stay home and watch the game on cable? They already come up short on ticket sales several times a year and some corporation has to bail them out to get the game broadcast, what if that problem is exacerbated by an Arden Hills’ location?

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/18/2011 - 07:49 am.

    #9 Fritz:

    //You know that very first bottle neck that you hit going north out of another remote location, Roseville, well that is Arden Hills (about 10 minutes away from each DT…with traffic moving as it should).

    There are already plans for a $20 million upgrade to fix this bottle neck. There’s no reason to spend another $101 million more, that extra money has absolutely nothing to do with easing congestion.

  23. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/18/2011 - 08:10 am.

    “How many people are really going to be willing to drive?”

    Lots of people, I think. Tailgating can be a big deal for football fans, and it’s unclear to me that public transit is an appealing option to the football fan base. That’s not an issue that seems to get addressed much. I think the point of mass transit is that it is to be used by masses of people. It just doesn’t make sense to extend mass transit to a facility that’s used only 8 times a year, during low traffic hours on Sundays.

  24. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/18/2011 - 09:48 am.

    Hiram #23 //Lots of people, I think. Tailgating can be a big deal for football fans, and it’s unclear to me that public transit is an appealing option to the football fan base. That’s not an issue that seems to get addressed much.

    The light rail line seems to have been a huge asset for the dome and new Twins Stadium. People keep going on about tailgating but it’s not 1965 anymore. Seems to me big stadiums in other cities are served by mass transit and people use it. This tailgating phenomena was a big deal at the old Met, but did you have to pay to park at the old Met? I seem to remember parking being free, that was one of the reasons they built it out there. And any ways, how feasible is tailgating in a parking ramp? I think Ziggy wants to build ramps, not parking lots. Does anyone tailgate in the ramps downtown?

  25. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/18/2011 - 10:50 am.

    “The light rail line seems to have been a huge asset for the dome and new Twins Stadium.”

    But is the Twins stadium an asset to the light rail system we have created? Does it make opposite or at least sufficient use of this asset we created? It’s also the case that the Twins Stadium is used for 81 games a year, and for some other stuff. A Vikings Stadium will be used 8 games a year, and the other stuff it could be used for could be handled by the Twins Stadium we have already built, and the Gopher Stadium.

    From what I understand, tailgating is very popular where the surroundings facilitate it. NFL football days, for many communities, are sort of day long events.

    The Met, as I recall charged a lot for parking. Parking revenues would be a big source of revenue for the Vikings in Arden Hills, another reason the Wilfs are so committed to that location. There are already ramps near the Farmers Market location, and building more would be expensive.

  26. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/18/2011 - 11:50 am.

    Hiram//A Vikings Stadium will be used 8 games a year, and the other stuff it could be used for could be handled by the Twins Stadium we have already built, and the Gopher Stadium.

    Or the dome. I think we actually come out ahead if lose the Vikings. We have plenty of venues for plenty of events and wouldn’t be paying $30 million a year worth of public debts.

  27. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/18/2011 - 02:25 pm.

    As Herman Cain might say, I don’t have the facts to back this up, but as far as the Dome is concerned, the only events that bring in significant revenues, the events that could justify keeping the Dome, are big time sports events, and the only tenant left in that category is the Vikings. The other events the Dome is used for, high school graduations, that sort of thing, don’t really justify the maintenance and other expenses and the lost opportunity costs of keeping the Dome, instead of using the land for something more productive. Except for the Vikings, I don’t think there is any event the dome does, that couldn’t be done, and quite possibly done better, somewhere else.

    At times, you may hear someone say that we can use the Vikings Stadium for a lot of other stuff besides the Vikings. Doubtless that’s true, but all that other stuff almost certainly could be accommodated elsewhere should we decide not to build the Vikings Stadium. While we don’t have an NFL quality in the twin cities, we have otherwise created for ourselves a glut of stadium space, perfectly adequate for most uses to which we might put a stadium.

    Really, the mistake we are being asked to pay for is our decision to build Gopher Stadium. We should have built an NFL stadium in which the Gophers could have played, either on campus or somewhere else.

  28. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/18/2011 - 02:30 pm.

    I note that in the Doug Grow’s article, Sen. Ann Rest makes the same point I do, that the mistake was in not building a dual use Gopher Viking stadium which she blames on Pawlenty’s disengagement. In all these stadium issues, the political posturing has ended up costing us money. One stadium would have been cheaper than two. Building the Twins Stadium earlier would have been cheaper, and without the political posturing, a much better deal could have been made for the taxpayers. And I firmly believe, that if we let the Vikings get away, bringing back pro football to Minnesota will be vastly more expensive than the deal we could make now to keep them.

  29. Submitted by David Greene on 10/18/2011 - 04:39 pm.

    All of the dual-tenant supporters here forget that the Vikings vehemently opposed such an arrangement. It would have cost them parking and concession revenues.

    So the Vikings are mostly responsible for digging their own grave here.

  30. Submitted by John D Sens on 10/18/2011 - 05:13 pm.

    The Twins hustled Hennepin County and the Vikings want to do the same across the river. If the people of Ramsey County are dense enough to let this happen to them, there isn’t much anyone can do but sit back and watch.

    I don’t agree that the Vikings are an amenity. They have proved to be a very poor team. I suppose they could beat the U of M Gophers. The Twins are as bad or worse. They are at best a glorified farm club. As soon as most players show they can play major league baseball they get traded. Examples are too numerous to mention. With the new stadium the Twins are raking in money, but persevere with atrocious baseball.

    I am against taxpayer money going to billionaire owners and millionaire players.

  31. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/19/2011 - 06:48 am.

    It would have cost them parking and concession revenues.

    That’s a problem that could have easily been solved by giving the Vikings parking and concession revenues. Certainly, their own parking revenues, and given the right deal, a chunk of the Gophers’.

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