Minnesota’s stadium debate was revved up by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission and glitzed up Wednesday by the agency’s gaggle of consultants.
The commission, which owns and operates the Metrodome, staged its first performances of its expensive eight-city “Listening Tour” — first at a lunch for 40 invited area business and political leaders and then at an evening “open house” for about 100 average Joes and Janes at a hotel.
There were the obligatory PowerPoint presentation and the computer-generated animation of a flyover above a futuristic downtown Minneapolis. There were heartfelt questions and comments from the peanut galleries. There were the scripts for commission leaders, developed by a public relations agency pulling down $317,000 in fees and expenses.
This edition of the stadium debate centers on the Vikings and where they will play come 2012, after their lease at the Dome expires, and after the Twins and University of Minnesota football team move into their respective new stadiums at a total cost of $800 million.
The Vikings’ conversation is destined to contain the “B” word — as in about $1 billion to build their stadium. The commission will play the “it’s good for the community” card — and there’s some truth to that about any stadium, of course. The team, with its reps along at tour stops, will beat the drum that owner Zygi Wilf is poised to develop property around the proposed new stadium’s site. True again.
But that’s all run-of-the-mill sales talk we’ve heard, in various shades, for 15 years through a Target Center buyout and subsidy tussles over Xcel Energy Center, the Twins ballpark and the Gophers’ on-campus stadium.
What’s new and even intriguing in this Vikes’ discussion is a 22-page report that the commission released Wednesday. The data therein have the potential to challenge key assumptions on which government entity should help fund such a project … allowing, as in every other recent case, the public eventually pays and/or finances these sports palaces.
This time, on funding, though, think state, the whole state and nothing but the state.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislators, take notice: No local community can afford to pay for this Vikings deal, nor should it. The governor’s demand for “a local partner” to pay for a new Vikings stadium flies in the face of the new report, paid for by the commission and produced by two consultants, RMS McGladrey, the accounting firm, and CSL International, a sports business agency.
To mix sports metaphors, this document puts the ball directly in the Legislature’s and Pawlenty’s court.
The report reveals that since 1982, the Metrodome — which cost, in today’s dollars, about $190 million to build — has generated more than $234 million for the state general fund through Twins, Vikings and Gophers sales taxes, liquor taxes and income taxes. (This is only activity in the Dome, and not some cockamamie surrounding “economic impact.”) Through those 25 years, the state has contributed nothing to the Dome’s costs of construction or operations.
It was Minneapolis (and some metrowide) liquor, hotel and parking dollars that paid down the Dome’s debt, along with land sales and fees paid by fans and rent by teams. But 95 percent of all tax revenues that flowed through the Dome from teams there wound up in the state’s wallet, not the city’s or any county’s.
Remember that when the Vikings debate begins in the Legislature in 2008 and extends into 2009 and the governor says he wants “a local partner” to step forward. Ain’t gonna happen. This Vikings thing is a state thing.
Remember this, too: Tell your kid to grow up to be a consultant.
The Fleishman-Hillard PR firm, led in this effort by former Northwest Airlines spokesman Jon Austin, has a $317,000 contract to stage this “Listening Tour” and spin the commission’s stadium vision.
Logistics guru Paul Ridgeway was brought on board to generate crowds in the eight stops; he’ll get up to $49,500 for that. Then there’s the $80,000 annually that the McGrann Shea law firm receives as the commission’s fulltime legal and lobbying counsel. There’s $50,000 that the commission contracted to pay RSM McGladrey to write its report, and up to another $25,000 for CSL.
One other big number: 63.
That was the share that Channel 9 had of viewers for the Vikings’ game two weeks ago. Of all Twin Cities TV viewers, 63 percent watched the Vikings play. In this day of zoned news, niche Web sites and bowling alone, the Vikings are as close to a statewide campfire as we get.
So, as the tour moves to Mankato today, let’s stipulate: owners are rich, athletes are spoiled, schools and roads are more important than stadiums, and nursing homes should take priority over pro football. Anybody want to fight about that?
Then, if you want, let’s get on to the serious work of bringing down any stadium cost from $1 billion. Focus on how to grab lots of dough from Wilf, including some of the increased value of the Vikings’ franchise. And don’t forget which governmental entity benefits the most from pro sports.
Oh, it should be a glorious three years of stadium debating … and, of course, listening.