To roof, or not to roof?
That is one of the fundamental questions facing the Vikings, policy makers and the pigskin-loving/tax-paying public as the discussion swirls around a new pro football stadium.
The conversation was jump-started this week by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. It began a statewide tour to gather support for what the agency is calling a multi-use, covered, climate-controlled facility, or “Metrodome Next.”
Commission vice chair Loanne Thrane, a politically savvy Republican from St. Paul, speaks about the Metrodome’s success in bringing events like the Super Bowl (1), NCAA men’s Final Four basketball tournament (2), the (aging) rock band Pink Floyd (1), and a handful of evangelic festivals and tractor pulls indoors.
She speaks as if they justify a $200-plus million roof on this new proposed edifice. Do they?
Other commissioners say this new place needs a roof for the University of Minnesota baseball team, which will be otherwise out in the cold. (The new $500 million Twins ballpark is roofless, of course. Not to be snotty, but maybe somebody should have thought about our Gophers when the Twins bill passed.)
DFL-linked Minneapolis businessman Paul Thatcher, a forceful commission member, states that a roof is needed on the dreamed-of Vikings palace for one pragmatic reason, “votes.”
There’s some belief that if and when a Vikings stadium bill gets to the Legislature in — probably — 2009, lawmakers in Greater Minnesota and, perhaps, some suburbs, will vote more readily for a $1 billion stadium with a roof than an $800 million without one. Why? One reason is that the high school football championship Prep Bowl and the state soccer championships allow their small-town kids to play indoors in November.
But is the Prep Bowl worth a $200-plus million roof? Could be. Citizens at the commission’s “Listening Tour” stop in Rochester Wednesday were sure passionate about high-choolers using the current Dome.
But $200 million-plus?
Large stadium entertainment and religious events are few and far between in the 21st century. A roof might get the Twin Cities one headache of a Super Bowl. Might. Seattle opted to build two new stadiums — one for baseball and one for football — without a roof and all they lost was the chance to get on the NCAA Final Four circuit.
Seattle seems to be thriving.
The Commission says one of its goals is to help the Vikings gain in-stadium revenue streams comparable to other NFL teams. Guess what? A new Vikings stadium without a roof would likely benefit the Vikings more than a stadium with a dome. The Vikings want to sell 150 luxury suites — those $100,000-plus per season condos in a stadium. They also want to sell at least 7,000 club seats — ticket prices of, probably, $200 to $300 per game — that gives customers access to an indoor bar, restaurant and who knows what else?
Won’t that high-end part of the inventory be more valuable if the great unwashed in the “cheap seats” are freezing their boxers off ?
For now, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is saying all the right things about a roof. He’s long said he prefers the atmosphere of outdoor football. (Of course, he’ll get a heated suite, no matter what.) But he knows the revenue benefits for him of an open-air stadium. And, he knows, if the Vikings have to pay operational costs for a new stadium, the bills go sky-high with a climate-controlled monster of a venue.
Still, last Sunday, so colorful in his pressed, purple dress shirt and his purple-and-white tie, Wilf was pumped, speed-rapping, envisioning, cheerleading … and this was four hours BEFORE Adrian Peterson ran for 296 yards and became Wilf’s most successful stadium lobbyist.
Wilf excitedly jabbered about the prospects for a new stadium on the site of the Metrodome, with housing and offices around it, a Vikings Hall of Fame and other “attractions” that could compete — in some ways, he proclaimed — with the Mall of America. Remember, the guy’s a New Jersey developer.
The retractable roof topic was raised. He didn’t skip a beat.
“I know community leaders would like a roof and this community should compete on a national level for all kinds of events,” he said. “Super Bowls, Chicago’s going for the Olympics, conventions, Minneapolis and St. Paul have to compete, too … But on a day like today, we’d have the roof off.”
If a roof costs $200 million, that’s about $20 million a year in debt service. Do those outstate legislators believe the Prep Bowl and the state high-school soccer tournament are worth that much?
Believe me, deep down, the Vikings don’t.