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Vikings stadium opponent: ‘Where are the jobs?’

Part of a series of first-person accounts relating to news events of 2013.

Dan Cohen
MinnPost photo by Karen BorosDan Cohen

The multi-year fight over the Vikings football stadium is over. In a matter of days, the Metrodome will be hauled away to the junkyard. Proponents of the new stadium already celebrated the groundbreaking, and ahead of them lie more festivities — and headaches, like cost overruns and construction delays. But what of the stadium’s foes? Dan Cohen, candidate for Minneapolis mayor in the recent election and member of the City Planning Commission, was one of the fiercest voices raised against the state and city’s nearly $500 million contribution to the cost. Cohen and two former officials launched a lawsuit against Minneapolis to stop it from selling bonds to finance a parking ramp and a park that are part of the Ryan Companies Downtown East development plan because they would also be used accommodate Vikings fans. Even though the suit was hanging on by a thread, and the stadium appeared to be a done deal, Cohen remains firm that a casino is a better fix for downtown doldrums:

The stadium is not a done deal until this lawsuit is disposed of. As a practical matter, it’s really not a done deal until the bonds are sold. Then the interests of the bondholders take precedence.

They talk about jobs for this stadium. Well, after they build it, where are the jobs? You build a downtown casino and you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of jobs. It’s not just building it, but staffing it. With a stadium, you might have a number of events besides Vikings games, but a casino operates 365 days a year day and night. There are three shifts of workers. At the Vikings stadium, there will only be as many shifts as they’re able to rent the place.

What’s more, the stadium will pay no property taxes. A downtown casino would pay property taxes, operating fees and licensing fees. There are the salaries of three shifts of people 365 days a year and corporate taxes, all of which amount to an enormous tax base paid.  

Block E might have been one place to put it but my preferred site would be to do what was done in Kansas City and that is to have a riverboat. If Minneapolis got one, I’d like to see one in St. Paul too.

Minnesota Moments 2013It’s unclear why there’s been a lack of interest. After all, they do it in Milwaukee. Milwaukee has a downtown casino. So do Kansas City and St. Louis. Dubuque, Iowa, has a downtown casino. Duluth, Minnesota has a downtown casino. We in Minneapolis seem to be very inward looking. We have a casino out in Prior Lake, and every day, four buses make 22 stops in downtown Minneapolis picking up downtown residents with their downtown money and taking them out to Prior Lake. And there hasn’t been a strong interest in providing any competition for that facility downtown. That’s what I have tried to do, and I’ve been unsuccessful in doing it, but I am going to keep trying.

There’s no reason why Prior Lake has to be a monopoly. Las Vegas has casinos on every corner, and they don’t seem to be starving for business. A casino here would be a huge tourist attraction. There are conventions of all kinds here, and a casino would be an attraction for conventioneers. We don’t have a year-round tourist attraction. Sports facilities like the Vikings and Twins stadiums are seasonal; this would be open year-round, 365 days.

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Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Bill Fisher on 12/31/2013 - 08:57 am.

    A little misleading

    Hiding a stadium story behind a casino story is misleading. While I am not opposed to either. To say that a casino would not be exempt from paying taxes is a little disingenuous. Both projects will be providing payroll tax to the state. Guess the editors are off…on break.

  2. Submitted by ALAN BELISLE on 12/31/2013 - 09:30 am.

    stadium jobs

    I worked at the Twins stadium for a season so I know what those jobs are like. The pay is $9 / hour, part time, no benefits, no parking, no insurance, no security. I worked from 3 hours before the game until the restaurant was closed and cleaned up. Days, nights, weekends, holidays, double headers. This was not a job that a person could live on. Or a job that anyone should be bragging about creating.

  3. Submitted by Fiona Quick on 12/31/2013 - 11:19 am.

    Casinos not the solution

    If the safety of citizens downtown cannot be ensured with just a few nightclubs there is no way the addition of a casino is going to help matters. Again, the wages are miniscule, unskilled, with little impact on the economy, it is redistributed disposable income from elsewhere not additional added income. People will just go to a casino DT Mpls instead of Mystic Lake, no additional money added to Minnesota economy.

    If you want to add jobs and revenue then you need to look at what adds import dollars, meaning new money, to the economy. What does that is manufacturing, that is where efforts, lobbying, trade missions, advertising, pressure time and money should be spent, up to and including tax dollars. Not subsidizing billionaires with federal tax exemptions for sports franchises which add little additional income to the state coffers (yes, there are dozens of studies that prove the impact is minimal beyond the cultural, see Baade & Dye, Rosentrab, Noll & Zimbalist, Waldon, Coates & Humphreys, Siegfried & Zimbalist et al).

    According to manufacturing.gov one new manufacturing job creates 1.6 additional jobs in local service businesses. If you make that manufacturing high-tech you add high skill components with above average wages & add 5 local service jobs. With the kind of tech development that is happening locally and groups of people seeking start-up funding the possibilities could be endless, especially with the growth in the “Internet of Things”. This is where effort and dollars should be spent, not lining the pockets of billionaires and building more empty office buildings when so many remain vacant in DT Minneapolis and in the remainder of the Twin Cities.

    Onshoring or finding the next big thing and building it right here is where the jobs are.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/31/2013 - 11:31 am.

    Casino?

    The only thing worse that a stadium is a casino. And you do realize you’d have to change state law to put one downtown right? Maybe we should set the bar a little higher than Dubuque.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/31/2013 - 12:02 pm.

    Gambling

    pulls money away from spending on productive goods and services. Good for the casino owners, but not for the economy.

  6. Submitted by jody rooney on 12/31/2013 - 05:06 pm.

    Having worked on the economics of casinos

    and the economic development there are a couple of misconceptions that I would like to clear up.

    Building the stadium is about construction jobs and taking players obscene salaries. My last look at tax policy and it could have changed that whatever portion of your living you earn in Minnesota gets taxed in Minnesota. Only the incremental increase in stadium employment is job creation. But construction jobs are well paid jobs and in this economy we have a surplus of construction labor. So there is merit to the job creation theory and about 50% of the money for the stadium will go into the Construction company and workers pockets.

    The Casinos in Duluth and Milwaukee are owned by tribes. Fond du Lac has terminated it’s agreement on revenue sharing but I suspect that the Forest County Potawatomi have a cost sharing agreement with the state and possibly Milwaukee.

    Ms. Quick is correct though a downtown casino is not the same experience as a rural or suburban casino even though they did have a lot of “looks like an ex marine” security.

    She is wrong however about it not generating new dollars but the new dollars would be from out of state visitors. The Minnesota gaming market is saturated or mature. Contrary to Mr. Cohen’s opinion I assure you that Treasure Island, Mystic Lake and Grand Casino Hinckley very much compete for the Metro area business.

    With the exception of Mystic Lake and Fond du Luth which are in the Metro Area, all of the other casinos have indeed been almost as good as manufacturing at creating jobs that are reasonably well paid. These jobs are in rural areas and people tend to stay in them longer and get raises. They bring money in from outside the region and the work force spends that money locally. The casinos also spend that money locally on services – just ask their energy suppliers.

    I guess I would challenge anyone to identify another single industry that has brought much needed wages to rural areas as gaming.

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/01/2014 - 10:04 am.

    It’s complicated

    I applaud Mr. Cohen for asking the not-quite-rhetorical question in the headline. Quibbling over the exact number of jobs seems pointless, but suggesting that 50% of the jobs will be the temporary construction kind seems reasonable. They pay pretty well, but the key point is that they’re temporary. The jobs that remain are, as suggested, dependent upon how many events are held at the new stadium. What doesn’t seem open to question, at least to me, is that the “permanent” jobs at the new stadium will be unlikely to be the sort of jobs upon which someone can raise a family and provide a decent living. $9 an hour won’t do it.

    A decade and more ago I was being paid $11 an hour in retail. It enabled me to scrape by as a single person, but would have been insufficient to support a family, and in that family-supporting context might have been even more frustrating, since it’s closer to a living wage, but not close enough to actually BE a living wage. I’m not a casino supporter, either. Part of my antipathy is a personal objection to trying to support an economy on the basis of gambling. Beyond that, however, I suspect that the majority of casino jobs are similar to the typical $9 an hour one, with limited prospects and benefits.

    My inclination is to support the idea of manufacturing jobs, but the idea and the reality sometimes don’t match. Manufacturing typically pays better, and the jobs last longer if the business is successful, but I’m waiting to see photos of downtown condo owners and apartment-dwellers carrying placards that say “Yes! I want to live next to a factory!” I can think of circumstances when that might even be the appropriate response, but my guess is that the condo owners, especially, won’t be getting on board that particular train.

    With apologies in advance to urban studies grad students and professional planners, maybe the “core city” concept has outlived its utility in the modern, industrialized world. Maybe we’d be better off to adopt the idea (and practice) that it’s the area or regional economic activity that’s driving the society, with jobs in various industries being created in numerous places that, for lack of a better term, might be labeled “nodes.”

    I just toss that out there because the stadium seems an obvious boondoggle, further enriching someone I wouldn’t trust as a neighbor, and who is already a member of the 1%. I’m not comfortable with gambling (casinos, horse-racing, poker, what-have-you) as the basis of anything beyond a very localized economy, and the practicalities of having a factory as a next-door neighbor may be more than city residents want to deal with.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/02/2014 - 07:01 am.

    Economics

    The economic arguments for the stadium were never more than placeholder arguments. Their function was to be responded to, not to convince. The theory being if you put out enough smoke, somebody will believe that there is a fire. No supporter of stadiums since the construction of the Colosseum has ever won an economics argument. At best stadiums are good for some segments of the economy at the expense of others. The politically connected benefit at the expense of the politically unconnected. This is not to say that the Vikings Stadium construction and operation won’t create jobs. Any expenditure of that kind will. Rather, the jobs it creates are temporary, and after completion, low paying. It’s an inefficient expenditure of resources, but in economic terms, probably better than no such expenditure at all.

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/02/2014 - 09:09 am.

    Reasons v. Rationalizations

    When talking about stadium issues, and maybe a lot of other things, it’s important or at least useful to distinguish between rationalizations and reasons. The possibility that the stadium would create jobs was a rationalization, but never a reason for building the stadium. Economists are pretty much in agreement that stadiums in terms of benefiting the economy are pretty much of a wash. As other posters have suggested, the stadium is subsidy to the service industry, a sector of the economy that pays low wages, without benefits to a transitory segment of the economy. It’s also a segment of the economy that’s doing quite well, and hardly in need of a subsidy. In effect, pouring taxpayer dollars into the service sector is like pushing on a string.

    The reason, but not the rationalization, for the stadium is that large construction projects benefit politically powerful constituencies in disproportionate ways. Relatively few people will benefit from stadium construction, but those who do will reap huge profits, the prospect of which justifies for them the political and lobbying costs necessary to get such projects built. A good deal of that money goes into distracting the public from that underlying reality, the “job creation” myth being one such distraction.

    For me, one of the frustrating things about stadium construction, is that it is an example of the shiny object school of policy planning. The politically powerful interests that support and benefit from this kind of construction couldn’t care less about what they actually build. It would certainly make sense to spend the money on more economically beneficial buildings, of a kind that aren’t used just 8 afternoons a year. But those kinds of projects aren’t shiny objects, they don’t have the same appeal to the public, They are way too often caught in a net of narrow political concerns that render them unfeasible. The best that one can say about any of the multitude of stadiums we have built is that in economic terms, while they are a waste of a splendid set of opportunities, they are ever so slightly better than nothing.

  10. Submitted by jody rooney on 01/02/2014 - 12:20 pm.

    Mr Foster you need to look a bit deep at your analysis

    all construction jobs are temporary by your rationale but it is a pretty big industry in which workers own good wages. Just because the job is in Minneapolis one day and St. Paul next month doesn’t necessarily make it a temporary job it makes it a job that is conducted in multiple locations. Is a salesman’s job temporary because they go to different customers in different buildings?

    I agree that funding bright shiny objects is a political problem and that all businesses are generally rent seeking when they seek political favors in the form of legislation that benefit them. However the fact that is a bright and shiny stadium rather than the repair of all bridges in Minnesota has to do with politicians preferences not need or lobbying effort. Construction people probably lobbied for both better bridges and the stadium and both would have employed a large number of people but not necessarily in Minneapolis.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/02/2014 - 02:09 pm.

    all construction jobs are temporary by your rationale but it is a pretty big industry in which workers own good wages.

    And that’s an economic problem with construction jobs, but not an insuperable one. In a good economy, construction employment can be continuous as workers move from job to job. In a struggling economy, it makes sense to put money into construction because you are employing people who would otherwise be on the bench. You are pulling, not pushing on the string. In any event, my problem isn’t with construction, it’s with what is being constructed. Stadiums aren’t a good investment of resources we devote to construction.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 01/02/2014 - 04:45 pm.

      Yes I would have rather seen more civil infrastructure

      than buildings but after trying to drive around last year it seems like they did a lot of construction.

  12. Submitted by John Reinan on 01/03/2014 - 07:28 am.

    You’re all overlooking the Downtown East development

    It’s true that stadiums generally have limited if any lasting economic benefit, in and of themselves. But this particular project is paving the way for some major development in a part of downtown that for decades has been bleak and barren.

    If a stadium were all got out of this, that would be a terrible mistake. As we all know, the only development that the Metrodome spawned in 30 years was Hubert’s bar.

    But now we’ll be getting several thousand permanent office jobs and several hundred additional residents from the Downtown East development. Undoubtedly, over time, retail and further commercial development will take place in that part of town. Cracked asphalt parking lots will be replaced with buildings and people. This will solidify the eastern part of downtown as a bookend to the already thriving North Loop.

    My wife is from Denver, and I’ve seen firsthand how the construction of Coors Field in the ’90s was the catalyst for a complete remaking of an old and depressed area of downtown Denver. In most cities, that doesn’t happen, but in Denver, it did. I think this project can be another exception to the rule that stadiums don’t lead development.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 01/03/2014 - 07:54 am.

      The engineering firm I worked at was in

      Thresher Square, That area has been improving for at least the last 13 years at a pace that is sufficient for existing demand.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/03/2014 - 11:50 am.

      Downtown development

      The Metrodome was supposed to pave the way for development in that area. As you point out, Hubert’s Bar has been all there is to show for that promise.

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/03/2014 - 09:33 am.

    Downtown development

    Is it really the case that the downtown development will be the result of the building of a large sports building that will be used only 8 Sunday afternoons a year? And where will those office jobs come from?

    Whatever it’s merits, Coors Field is a baseball stadium and that means it is used 81 times a year, from April through September. The more apt comparison is the new Twins Stadium. Has the Twins Stadium generated the kind of economic development that would justify it’s cost?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/03/2014 - 04:39 pm.

      Absolutely right

      I don’t understand why anyone would make an effort to put their office building next to a football stadium (except, perhaps, the football team). A sports stadium isn’t much of an amenity–it’s just another reason for occasional visitors to the city to clog the streets looking for parking. As you point out, the “amenity” is in use 8 Sundays per year. Why would a non-hospitality business care about that?

      Nor do I see it as a draw for residential development. A few die-hard fans might like the idea of living across from Zygidu, but who else?

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/04/2014 - 05:25 am.

        Office building

        I don’t know for a fact why one would put an office building next to a stadium, or for that matter, why building up a stadium opens up an area for real estate development but I can guess. To understand that, one might have to find a way in to the murky world of real estate speculation, a place where people rarely speak to reporters.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/03/2014 - 10:53 am.

    This is an awful economic stimulus investment

    It doesn’t even make a lot of sense as a construction job creator. The builders have calculated that this project will create about 600 full time job equivalents. At that rate we’re spending a million dollars per FTE. Good job creation programs spend less than $30K per FTE.

    Furthermore that fact that you end up with a sports stadium for a privately owned franchise that will not be in use year round or even most of the time makes it worse. Stadiums produce zero economic stimulus. We could have spent the money building infrastructure that would serve millions year round and expand the economy. We would have been better off losing the Vikings and building mixed use retail and urban park space where the stadium is going to be. Same number or more construction jobs plus a much great multiplier effect.

  15. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/03/2014 - 12:47 pm.

    At that rate we’re spending a

    At that rate we’re spending a million dollars per FTE. Good job creation programs spend less than $30K per FTE.

    When I see numbers like that, I always wonder whether that’s a lot or a little. The advantage of investing in construction is that it generates high, rather than low, income jobs. A basic problem with stadium investing is that the jobs ultimately created are low quality jobs.

    In terms of ultimate economic impact, there are better investments out there than stadiums, at least, that’s what I have always thought. The earlier poster says that there is all this downtown development online, implying at least that it would not have otherwise occurred, had it not been possible to build it next a stadium used eight times a year. I am skeptical, and the fact is, no such development occurred when it could have been built next to a stadium used much more than the Vikings Stadium, but hey, what do I know?

    I will say, that if the economic development argument is sound, it would make more sense to build a Twins Stadium downtown, and then remodel the current Twins Stadium for football.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/04/2014 - 10:31 am.

      Jobs and money

      It’s pretty basic basic math. If you spend a billion public dollars to create jobs, the less you spend per job the more jobs you create. The guys who built the new 35W bridges got paid just as much as they would building a stadium, but it didn’t cost a $1 million per FTE to build the bridge. And the bridge doesn’t sit there empty most of the time, tens of thousands of people use it every day and it brings millions of dollars into the community instead of the pocket of a few dozen people in a single franchise.

      The reason no development occurred on or around the dome was simply because the dome was there. Modern stadiums create dead zones around them for a variety reasons. It will be interesting to see what happens to all the development being planned in Downtown East, it could well fail because it’s so close to the stadium. It’s kind of a catch 22, if the stadium is only used a dozen or so times a year it’s wasted space. If it’s used more than that it starts to become a hassle for the companies and people living next to it. There might be some sweet spot where the number of events are enough to claim the stadium’s not wasted space but not so much that its a hassle to neighbors, but we’ll see if that materializes.

      Like I said, we’d been better off losing the Vikings. The stadium and it’s surrounding dead zone would have been redeveloped and all that dead space that’s going to sit there empty as a stadium would have been deployed and on the city tax rolls eventually.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/04/2014 - 04:07 pm.

        Investment

        “Like I said, we’d been better off losing the Vikings. The stadium and it’s surrounding dead zone would have been redeveloped and all that dead space that’s going to sit there empty as a stadium would have been deployed and on the city tax rolls eventually.”

        Presumably the redevelopment that would have taken place around the stadium, will occur someplace else when the economy improves. While the stadium wasn’t a particularly good investment of otherwise idle resources, at least it was an investment. It will put people to work who, in this economy, are now on the bench.

  16. Submitted by John Reinan on 01/03/2014 - 08:17 pm.

    Even Gary Schiff supported the Downtown East development

    The City Council unanimously approved a development (to be built by Ryan Cos) that will include several office buildings, with Wells Fargo as lead tenant. These are the thousands of jobs I referenced. Also included are about 400 residential units.

    Several commenters are wondering where the jobs will come from. This is where. I’m not talking about construction jobs from building the stadium — I’m talking about permanent jobs in big office buildings that will be built where some parking lots are now.

    This development got the support of even the stadium critics on the City Council. It’s a very good thing for downtown.

    I worked at the Star Tribune for 5 years and I disagree with the comment that the area has been developing at appropriate speed. It’s a wasteland over there.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/06/2014 - 09:01 am.

      Unanimous

      If we’ve learned nothing else from the Iraq war, we should have learned that broad legislative support does not necessarily make something a good idea. It provides a thin veil of political cover, but it doesn’t afford retroactive wisdom.

      You mention the “permanent jobs in big office buildings” that will arise. That’s great, but office buildings themselves are not creators of new jobs. As Mr. Foster asked, are these just jobs that are going to be moved from one location to another? Wells Fargo is going to be the lead tenant–does that mean they are moving jobs a few blocks up the street from the old Honeywell location? Is that building now going to sit vacant, perpetuating blight?

      The Downtown East development is just a shuffle. There is nothing new here, just space to put something that already existed. After the construction jobs are over, all the city will have to show for the whole thing is empty buildings in an other part of town.

  17. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/04/2014 - 08:47 am.

    Where is this?

    It still isn’t clear to me if these are new jobs created or old jobs that have been moved. I don’t know why Wells Fargo would go on some sort of hiring spree simply because they move their offices to new buildings in proximity to a stadium used 8 Sunday afternoons a year. As for residential units, presumably the folks living in the new buildings will have moved there from somewhere else. I don’t see that there is any particular shortage of residential living space in downtown Minneapolis so in terms of the public subsidy involved, this is simply one more instance of pushing rather than pulling on an economic string.

    I fully understand that this project has the support of lots of folks. Lots of folks with political influence will benefit from it, and the folks who pay for it don’t have political influence. That said, the interesting and relevant questions are why questions. Why wasn’t this area attractive when a professional sports team played in the staduy 81 games, but now is attractive now that it’s nearby a stadium used only 8 times a year. Why was this development opportunity passed by when the Twins were looking for a stadium location, but now comes into play when a stadium which will stand largely unused is being built nearby?

  18. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 01/04/2014 - 08:58 am.

    Why question

    Here are some more why questions

    Why was it necessary to build a football stadium to open up the surrounding area for development? Such development famously didn’t occur when the Metrodome was built. NFL football, in economic terms, and unlike baseball is primarily a television game. Since it plays so few games, where the stadium it’s direct impact on the economy of the surrounding area is very limited. That’s why nobody thinks it’s absurd to rename the Metrodome, “Mall of America Field”, a shopping complex that’s miles away, and that in fact directly competes with the Metrodome’s actual neighbors. To the TV viewers who actually matter, it makes no difference where the actual football stadium is located.

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