The recent wave of news reports on retail leaving downtown Minneapolis at an alarming rate brought to mind the bait-and-switch of the summer.
Remember when the Minnesota Vikings announced big plans to purchase four parcels near the Metrodome from the Star Tribune? Then, just as suddenly, the team pulled out, citing the real estate credit crisis? This did not bode well for the future of development around a Vikings stadium, the future of the newspaper or the future of the downtown real estate market.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and company have barely hidden their desire to give Downtown East an extreme makeover, attaching a glut of mixed-use housing, shops and restaurants to any new stadium to be shoe-horned into the Dome site. That is, in fact, the Wilf family’s bread-and-butter. I wondered this week if Zygmunt didn’t perhaps see a retail vamoose in that purple crystal ball of his.
“Obviously we’ve watched the coverage on the decline in retail,” Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ vice president of public affairs and stadium development, said when reached by phone this week. “But that had no bearing on our decision. That was based purely on the business climate at the time.”
Bagley was biding time in Marshall, where he was tagging along on something the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission is calling a “listening tour.” The MSFC operates the Metrodome, and now is taking the lead on gauging public sentiment on a new Vikings home. It’s a remarkable about-face for the team, which just a year ago was trying desperately to break away from the MSFC on the stadium push. But things certainly changed after the I-35W bridge collapse, and the team is even considering a public facility, with a roof, that’s open year-round.
“We want a facility that’s a statewide attraction,” Bagley said. “We want a facility that’s used by the entire state of Minnesota.”
Still keen on downtown
If this sounds a little familiar — like something resembling the Metrodome, perhaps? — you’re not far off. The difference, of course, is that a new stadium gives the Vikings a chance to lock in better revenue streams than the notoriously bad ones the team has now.
Another major difference is that the team, according to Bagley, isn’t backing off from some rather lofty development plans in the neighborhood. “We have four different parcels adjacent to the Metrodome, and we’re talking to property owners,” Bagley said. “We expect the stadium to be a significant part of the package.”
Bagley noted that this redevelopment vision is on a much smaller scale than the one Wilf unveiled when the team was considering a site in Anoka County. This would cater to a burgeoning neighborhood downtown, Bagley said, with “shops and restaurants” that catered to “people who live and work downtown.” He cited the people-traffic uptick at the Dome LRT station when the Central Corridor line is running.
“We’re confident that this will move forward as part of a broader development,” Bagley said, though clearly there’s a carrot-and-stick approach the team is banking on. “This is the last part of downtown Minneapolis where this kind of development can happen.”
The big pitch
Of course, Bagley and everyone else know the 2008 legislative session is all about transportation, transit, bonding bills and bridge politics. There is no stomach among lawmakers for digging up $700 million for a millionaire owner to house his Pop Warner team.
But Bagley says this year will be about the team maintaining a “presence” at the Capitol in hopes of hitting pay dirt in 2009. “We need to keep it moving forward,” Bagley said, adding that every year of delay adds $47 million to what is now a $954 million price tag if the stadium opens in 2012. (The Vikings’ Dome lease, as the world surely knows by now, expires in 2011.)
And, of course, he noted that Wilf has pledged $250 million of his own cash to go toward the stadium, and heaven knows how much more he’ll put into downtown development.
If all of this sounds questionable, that’s because it is. That’s why Bagley gingerly threw around phrases like “user fees,” “publicly owned facility” and “securing the Vikings long term.” It’s also why the team is conceding on the roof for another $200 million (the difference between retractable and permanent, according to Bagley, is $25 million), and why Bagley found himself in Marshall on Tuesday.
“This is the eighth city on the tour,” Bagley said, ticking off places like Duluth, St. Cloud, Rochester. The drill, Bagley said, is to meet with community leaders — think chamber and council folk — in the morning, then wait for the great unwashed to show up at open houses in the evening. More importantly, Bagley has learned to not make this about a handout for the Minnesota Vikings.
“The fact that the sports commission is leading the discussion,” Bagley concluded, “makes this about a facility and multi-use site for the state.” (PDF)