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Not all Hennepin County commissioners are on the MLS stadium bandwagon

I’m not interested in using my constituents’ money to fund yet another stadium.

A story in MinnPost (“Game on? Hennepin County jumps into stadium fray”) on Wednesday discussed the request made earlier this year for government involvement in a new pro soccer stadium. The story quoted my colleague Commissioner Peter McLaughlin: “ ‘This is a better deal for a stadium than any I’ve seen,’ McLaughlin told members of 2020 Partners. Of the Hennepin County board, McLaughlin said: ‘We were enthusiastically supportive of the soccer proposal’ and made suggestions to legislative leaders as to how it could come together.’ ”

Jeff Johnson

I’m assuming Peter was using the royal “we” in his statement, since we certainly does not include me. In fact, the Hennepin County Board has never once discussed our position on an MLS stadium.

From my perspective, I’m not interested in using my constituents’ money to fund yet another stadium. Whether it’s land donation, tax credits, siphoning money from the Twins stadium sales tax fund or some other scheme, taxpayers have already contributed too generously to stadia in the Twin Cities.

In the past 15 years, taxpayers have paid a significant portion of the cost of the Xcel Center (Wild), Target Field (Twins), TCF Stadium (Gophers) and CHS Field (Saints). And we’ll soon be on the hook for a hefty portion of the $100 million-plus renovation of Target Center (Timberwolves) and, of course, the $1 billion Vikings stadium.

A better deal for a stadium than any he’s seen? Frankly, that’s not saying much, since the last deal negotiated for the taxpayers of Minnesota (the Vikings stadium) was recently found to be one of the worst deals for taxpayers in all of pro sports (“Vikings stadium makes MarketWatch list of ‘Worst Deals from Sports Teams’ ”).

The taxpayers have done enough.

Priorities matter in government, and there are many worthy priorities in Hennepin County: child protection, public safety, roads and a safety net for the most vulnerable in our county, just to name a few.

Subsidizing another stadium should be the last thing on our mind.

Jeff Johnson is a Hennepin County Commissioner from Plymouth representing District 7, which includes cities in the western and northwestern suburbs.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/31/2015 - 03:10 pm.

    Thank you for putting the taxpayer first !!

    You may be only one of a few in public office who do so when the subject of subsidizing pro sports and the billionaires who own the franchises comes up, but please don’t stop, and please continue to make your views as public as possible.

    We have had stadium after stadium shoved down our throats, over our objections, by the likes of your colleague Mr. McLaughlin, and it leaves us wondering: do we matter at all any more to these people ??

    There are many, many, many of us who agree with your priorities as expressed in the last two paragraphs of your piece.

    Our fundamental needs do not include, and are vastly more important than, a pro sports stadium.

  2. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 07/31/2015 - 07:46 pm.

    Republicans like Johnson

    Have no interest in infrastructure, roads, bridges or transit because it costs money. They prefer to give tax cuts, especially to the rich. We have lousy roads, lousy transit and falling bridges shoved down our throats because of those cheapskates.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/01/2015 - 07:55 am.

      Push > Shove

      When push comes to shove, republicans can always be counted on to provide the necessary votes to enrich the wealthy owners of sports franchises. Witness Tim Pawlenty, who could have stood up for such conservative principals as local control (Hennepin County residents voting),, not growing government, and keeping the government from “picking winners and losers”. But he quietly allowed all of those talking points to fall by the wayside and let the Pohlads grab freely from the public till. Same with Julie Rosen and the Wilf’s palace. Same with that guardian of the tax payers’ dollars Scot Walker, who is working diligently to socialize the cost side of the Milwaukee Buck’s budget while safe guarding the profit side.

      They have no problem spending on infrastructure as long as it enriches their donor base.

      The Tea Party as a whole has been AWOL on these stadium scams. But I guess it’s not so fun to speak truth to power when you can take on undocumented people.

      Hats off to Johnson if he really sticks to his guns on this. But it will be very interesting to see how he votes, if his vote is crucial to passage.

    • Submitted by Peter Berman on 08/01/2015 - 09:00 am.

      Stadium subsidies is not a party-line issue

      Hi Logan–Bleeding-heart liberal Democrat here. I agree with you that roads, transit, and bridges are public needs that can’t be met without tax dollars. What Commissioner Johnson is saying here is that a stadium is not a public need. He states that roads among other things are higher priorities for government. There’s certainly a debate to be had on transportation priorities with Republicans in general, and perhaps with Jeff Johnson in particular–but I wouldn’t say this is the place for it. This is the place to respond to his stance on stadium funding. Speaking for myself, I applaud it.

      To Jeff Johnson: Thank you for being a responsible steward of our tax dollars on this issue.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 08/02/2015 - 07:44 pm.

        He can certainly talk about the stadium issue.

        However right now saying a another stadium is a bad idea is like saying you are against crime for most politicians. My objection to his comment is his mention of infrastructure, etc at all which he and other Republicans never seriously discuss as far as how to fund transportation. And of course, their discussion is limited to roads but no hike in the gas tax, a pure user fee. Rather all Minnesotans should pay thru the general fund even if they don’t own a car. Check his campaign comments. There should be no connection between stadiums and transpiration needs.

    • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 08/02/2015 - 07:40 pm.

      Mr. Foreman,

      as an unapologetic high income earner I have yet to be the recipient of any tax cuts in this state. Please be more specific.

  3. Submitted by Paul Rider on 08/01/2015 - 06:24 am.

    Why not let the people actually vote on this?

    We’ve been saddled with these “stadia” without proper representation from the actual taxpayers. Let us decide whether or not we want to support this effort! I, for one, am more than happy to give tax breaks to a group of people who are footing most of the bill for this project. We give tax breaks for all sorts of entities. It wouldn’t kill us to help out in this case.

  4. Submitted by Alan Muller on 08/01/2015 - 07:33 am.

    Johnson is right!

    Please, no more giveaways to professional sports stadia.

    I don’t know where Commissioner Johnson stands on other needed infrastructure, but a soccer stadium is not “needed” and the promoters should pay for it themselves if they really want it.

    To me, these stadium deals symbolize a lack of integrity in government.

  5. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/01/2015 - 11:46 am.

    Peter McLaughlin’s off-the-cuff remarks on the pro soccer stadium revealed a couple of things: that he had already intervened with Democratic legislators in a discussion of public funding for such a stadium, and that the .15 of a percent Hennepin County sales tax that was dedicated to pro baseball’s Minneapolis stadium has been generating gobs and gobs of money that the county doesn’t know what to do with. he’s proposing giving some for a soccer stadium.

    Hennepin County has been funding, with that .15 of a percent sale tax, not just Target Field but all kinds of ball fields all over the county. There’s an excess there, which apparently can only be used for. . . ball games? by the Sports Authority? Whatever, it seems that we can’t save the lives of tiny children in Hennepin County by dedicating that extra sales tax money to Social Services (babies and toddlers lose lives regularly because the county doesn’t have enough money to pay social workers to handle all the cases, etc.)

    There’s always a danger, when a politician has been in office a long time (check out President Obama recently criticizing African nations’ long-term presidents), that they begin to suffer the “l’etat, c’est moi” syndrome. Peter McLaughlin has been in office longer than the rest of his colleagues on the County board, and he’s done a lot of initiating in his time. He’s used to doing it, and he’s done it here, working behind the scenes.

    We just found out about it, in his off-the-cuff revelations.

    • Submitted by Alan Muller on 08/02/2015 - 11:23 am.

      Peter McLaughlin’s MO

      Seems to me to be promoting high-capital-investment projects of all sorts–doesn’t really matter if it’s a stadium, light rail line, garbage incinerator, or whatever. Doesn’t really matter if the project is useful, well-conceived, in the public interest, or not.

      The driver is the nexus of bankers, investors, construction trades, contractors, political contributions … that creates the political suction. Spending money on social services, recycling programs, health care … just doesn’t have the same suction because the fat-cat interests don’t benefit as much.

      But Peter is also very good at posting as a person-of-the-people while setting up these scams.

  6. Submitted by Rob Spence on 08/01/2015 - 03:26 pm.

    Blatant attempt to score political points.

    Fact Check…
    The owners of MN United are paying for the project INDEPENDENTLY.
    That is why it is considered “a better deal for a stadium than any he’s seen.”

    The only subsidy (if you can call it that) is some (not all) tax relief but I find it refreshing that a Republican is holding the line on corporate handouts.

    Any additional spending by the county on infrastructure to support the project (bridges, streets, etc.) are expenses that would likely be sunk if the area were to be developed by any group, not just MN United.

    At the end of the day, I’d prefer it was built in St. Paul anyway, so… Thanks for your anti-stadium bandwagon jumping – whatever your motivations may be.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/03/2015 - 11:52 am.

      Not really

      Transit infrastructure for a stadium is very different than that for condo’s or even retail development of some kind.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/03/2015 - 11:54 am.

    Say what you want about republicans but…

    This democrat obsession with stadiums and arenas, and this tendency to call these projects “public infrastructure” is all on the Democrats. If republicans find a way to capitalize on it we have only the democrats to blame.

  8. Submitted by Bob Anderson on 08/06/2015 - 06:40 pm.

    Stick with original offer

    The McGuire group bid and received the soccer franchise based primarily because they promised an outdoor stadium. There were no contingencies that stated the city of Minneapolis would have to subsidies the stadium.This was a strategic and deceptive bid offer and McGuire of all people should be cautious of this behavior. The stadium and development would be great now it’s time for this group to pony up and move ahead with their original offer.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/07/2015 - 09:32 am.

      Yes and No

      The fact is that the business model for professional sports actually relies on public subsidies, without those subsidies they can’t generate the profit they want. Their teams lose value over time, and they can’t attract more eyeballs for their games. Everyone in the professional sports world of “franchises” knows this.

      McGuire wasn’t being careless with his original bid, at least I think that’s unlikely. More likely the plan, like always, is to game the system and extract public subsidies. It’s unlikely that anyone ever really planned on building the stadium without any subsidies in the first place, and it’s unlikely the league made such an assumption when they “sold” a franchise to McGuire.

      The larger problem is the fact that these stadiums are eating up acres of prime downtown MPLS real estate. At a time when urban planning and common sense are pointing towards higher density urban planning we’re losing acres of land to stadiums that barely nudge the local economy and sit there empty 80% or more of the time. This is a really stupid thing for a city like MPLS to be doing. And to give these billionaires tax subsidies for rendering prime real estate essentially useless is beyond stupid.

  9. Submitted by Jim Koepke on 08/14/2017 - 06:01 pm.

    Go Jeff.

    As a long time Hennepin employee I can attest to the fact that he is well-respected by employees as someone who is smart and competent and cares about providing necessary services to the public.

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