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Vaunted stadium Listening Tour — surprise! — finds the answers commission wanted

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission’s Listening Tour is officially over and — in a not-so-shocking development — the commission, after budgeting about $400,000 in consultant fees and costs, heard pretty much what it sought to hear: The cit

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission’s Listening Tour is officially over and — in a not-so-shocking development — the commission, after budgeting about $400,000 in consultant fees and costs, heard pretty much what it sought to hear: The citizens of Minnesota want to keep the Vikings, and they want a domed stadium.


The agency that owns and operates the Metrodome went into the field, beginning last November, and, over the course of two months and countless snow storms, hit nine communities statewide.

Today, the commission released its “Report to the Minnesota Legislature” about the tour. (Here are some excerpts. [PDF])

It is, argued MSFC chairman Roy Terwilliger, “a valid piece of groundwork as policy-makers proceed beyond 2008.”

To Terwilliger, the most important part of the tour was creating some urgency around a real timetable: The Vikings lease at the Dome expires after the 2011 season (PDF).

If the goal was to stoke the flames of Vikings stadium awareness in the hinterlands, perhaps the Listening Tour succeeded. About 1,000 people — many of them invited by commission consultants and stadium boosters — attended the sessions. And lots of Greater Minnesota media coverage was generated.

Where’s the evidence?
But the substantial evidence necessary to persuade skeptics — or to help boosters justify a $1 billion-plus stadium — is jarringly missing from the final report.

Of those 1,000, only about 200 completed an open-ended survey offered by the MSFC. The survey was — shall we say — not exactly scientific.

“Should the Vikings football team remain in Minnesota for the future generation of fans?”  This is somewhat akin to: Should you visit your grandmother on holidays?

Still, only 92 percent of those motivated survey takers want the Vikings to stay.

Another question: “Does Minnesota need a year-round, multi-purpose sports and entertainment facility with a roof?”

This inquiry was designed to support the opinion of the commission’s leaders — such as Terwilliger and Intergovernmental Relations chair Loanne Thrane — that a domed Vikings stadium is necessary. (My answer is: We already have Target Center, Xcel Energy Center and a stable of other indoor facilities, but I digress.)

Mostly, they argue, a retractable roof is important because consumers and families in Greater Minnesota want to see their high school teams play at the Prep Bowl and state high school soccer playoffs in climate-controlled comfort. (Obviously, there are legislative votes in those districts, too.)

Oh, and the Super Bowl might come to Minnesota once every 30 years, and the NCAA Final Four could come a couple of times over the next quarter century.

Roof unnecessary and unjustified
The survey shows 85 percent of the self-selected responders want a roof.

As we wrote back in November, the roof and its cost — at least $200 million — seems unnecessary to me.

And, so far, unjustified.

The Dome was designed more than 30 years ago and has been in operation since 1982. Time has passed it by. If we could undo history, the Vikings and Gophers would be sharing a new stadium, rather than having two football facilities less than two miles apart, one on campus, one in downtown Minneapolis. The state could have saved at least $300 million with one shared stadium. Blame that on Red McCombs or Jesse Ventura or Tim Pawlenty or the ‘U.’ But we can’t undo that. We’re stuck.

These questions deserve an answer
The Listening Tour report will find its way over to the Capitol some day soon, and,if I were a lawmaker, I’d put it neatly on my pile of pretty documents. And then I’d write a bill to instruct the commission — using its own cash reserves — to answer these questions, and others, for me:

• Does this state really need a domed massive stadium, with its energy costs and its limited payback? What again do we get for more than $200 million? Tell me, please.

• That is, what is the cost-benefit of a roof vs. a roofless stadium? If there’s no NCAA Final Four every 10 years, what do we lose? If there’s no Super Bowl here ever again, what do we lose?

There hasn’t been a concert at the Dome for two years. Is it worth $200 million for a few big events over the next three decades and a couple of tractor pulls? Believe me, Prep Bowl kids will be just as excited to play in a new open-air Vikings stadium as they do now at the Dome.

• What is the real benefit of these big events? From a civic branding perspective, don’t enough people around the nation see the Minneapolis skyline when the Vikings are on Monday night football twice a season? Isn’t that enough for community imagery? Why do we need such big events?

• Is there going to be a baseball field configuration in this new Vikings facility? Will the Gophers baseball and softball teams play there? If so, why is the University of Minnesota pondering spending $12 million to rebuild Siebert Field on campus? Can’t we coordinate all this?

• How can the projected $1 billion cost for any pro football stadium be reduced, and reduced significantly? Why hasn’t the commission brought forth its renovation plan yet? It has one. It’s in an architect’s office in Kansas City. Hush-hush.

Bring it on. Let people look at it. Put some dollar signs on it. How much money can we save if we renovate the Dome? Can we renovate the Dome?

• The Twins are about to sell fancy club seats at their new ballpark and charge an upfront “membership” fee of $1,000 or $2,000 to folks who want this top-end seating. In other markets, that’s been called a private seat license.  It’s a rational way to charge users for the cost of construction of a stadium and its amenities.

Do the math: If the Vikings charged all of their season ticket holders an average of merely $1,000 per seat, the team could raise $50 million in one fell swoop. Wouldn’t such support from fans help the team in its lobbying efforts at the Legislature? And if Zygi Wilf poured in another $400 million to $500 million, we’d be getting there. Tell us, the Legislature should ask, about the private piece of any Vikings proposal.

Terwilliger wants those sorts of questions asked and answered.

“Let’s look at all the various options,” he told MinnPost today. “What it costs, and what you’re going to receive out of it. I’d like that … But I’m not going to go running over there right now and say, ‘Legislature, you’ve got to do this.’ … That’s a decision that has to be made by the policy-makers.”

Once the serious business at the Capitol is completed, the Legislature should instruct the commission to hire outside experts to ask and answer tough questions, not the softballs of this Listening Tour.

The outside consultants should not have done any work for the MSFC in the past. Indeed, they should be from other states. A scientific poll should be conducted, Senate district by Senate district. A thorough financial analysis of the need for a roof should be undertaken. A thorough political analysis, too.

Now, that’s a report I’d listen to.