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The first meeting of Stadium Task Force No. 1,347: Seriously … some ways to solve the Vikings dilemma

Our mission, should we choose to accept it — and frankly, we have to — is to figure out a thoughtful, progressive, Minnesota-ish, 21st-century way to build a new stadium, or recycle the Metrodome, to accommodate our beloved football team.

Ellerbe Beckett's design for a retractable roof Vikings stadium.
Ellerbe Becket
Ellerbe Beckett’s design for a retractable roof Vikings stadium.

Testing one, two, three. Testing. Cough. Gavel. Gavel.

The 1,347th Task Force on Stadiums in Minnesota is called to order. Thank you all for altering your priorities and attending.

Our mission, should we choose to accept it — and frankly, we have to — is to figure out a thoughtful, progressive, Minnesota-ish, 21st-century way to build a new stadium, or recycle the Metrodome, to accommodate our beloved Minnesota Vikings football team. And, yes, missile throwers and naysayers out there, by just about any measure, this team, this sports asset, this brand, is truly beloved by a large portion of our citizens, who also happen to be taxpayers.

But, blockhead boosters and tailgate-tipsy fanatics, we have little patience for you, either. This is not about who shouts the loudest. This is about solving a statewide cultural dilemma.

That includes, you, Sports Media Inc. Puh-leese, stop shilling for the team or, on the other hand, whacking Zygi Wilf and his handlers as if he is the second coming of Norm Green or, even worse in sports these days, Rush Limbaugh. He’s not. Wilf seems to be a decent man. At least, so far. Let’s not personalize this. Let’s get to work.

Some stadium stipulations
Before we call our first witness, I believe we can stipulate a few things:

• Gov. Jesse Ventura — and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in particular — missed opportunities to force the Vikings and University of Minnesota to build one football stadium in this town. It could have been done. It should have been done. Governors are supposed to bang heads and come up with solutions. It would have saved this state hundreds of millions of dollars. A college team and a pro team CAN share a stadium. But those governors stood by and didn’t provide the leadership needed. That was a political and public-spending crime.

All in favor say ‘Aye.’ All opposed say ‘Nay.’ The ayes have it.

• The state’s budget is in serious crisis. Our schools are crumbling. Pre-school education must be funded. Higher education requires our investment. Health care needs to be reformed and available to all. The homeless situation in the Twin Cities is unconscionable. Public transit continues to need improvement. Broadband access is critical the rural communities. Zygi Wilf is richer than all of us put together ever will be.

All in favor say ‘Aye.’ All opposed say ‘Nay.’ The ayes have it.

• We are capable of dealing with many issues on our plate. As someone once said, “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.” Thus, solving the Vikings stadium situation is possible in such an environment. The politics may not allow for it, and, if that’s the eventual outcome, so be it. But a solution is doable. Yes, we can!

All in favor say ‘Aye.’ All opposed say ‘Nay.’ The ayes have it.

• We are not convening this 1,347th Stadium Task Force because the Vikings are undefeated and there is much joy in Purpleland. No, we are convening today in spite of it. We should never build stadiums because teams are winning. We should build and even help to fund stadiums because they make long-term sense for the state and its citizens, or at least as much sense as they do for other states and their citizens. If you’re here to promote a new Vikings stadium because the the team is 6-0, we will ask Capitol security to remove you. If they were 0-6, they’d need a new stadium even more.
All in favor say ‘Aye.’ All opposed say ‘Nay.’ The ayes have it.

• Finally, can we stop talking about how Minneapolis or Hennepin County or even the seven or nine counties in the metro area should pay for any new facility? There is no logic to that. If there are any financial benefits that pro sports bring to Minnesota — and we can argue that point at another time — they accrue to the state’s general fund via income and sales taxes. That affects all 87 counties. The Vikings are a state thing, not a Fridley or Chaska thing or a Kenwood thing.

Let’s stipulate that if there is any public funding or financing, it will be state-based and not locally based. Spread the pain, dilute the cost, share the ownership.

All in favor say ‘Aye.’ All opposed say ‘Nay.’ The ayes have it.

Some suggestions
With that preliminary business out of the way, I’d like to make a few suggestions, ask some questions, direct staff to tackle some projects and acknowledge the presence of the Honorable Brett Favre, who registered as a lobbyist today. By the way, Brett, thanks so much for the jersey, the free tickets and the lock of your hair. Really appreciated it. And remember it’s my son’s birthday next week and you’ll call him, right?

My staff has developed a Ten or Eleven Point Program for Re-thinking the Vikings Stadium Conundrum Without Jamming It Down Anyone’s Throat or, more simply, the TOEPPFRTVSCWJIDAT.

1. Let’s build the first “urban football stadium.”

When the Twins ballpark was under discussion, some of us believed it could be a 365-day-a-year edifice, with shops, an urgent-care center, a day-care provider, college class rooms, a police station and other useful entities located right there, at street level, in the stadium itself. Because of the size of the Twins ballpark and its tucked-away location, that didn’t happen. Foot traffic near Target Field will be limited when games aren’t under way.

Can we please examine how to make a new Vikings’ stadium a 365-day-a-year facility? And I don’t mean 350 tractor pulls. With only 10 games a season, this project needs more of a public purpose.

Why not have a Hennepin County Medical Center urgent care facility right there in the refurbished Dome? Why not have a Minneapolis Community & Technical College sports management department right there or food-service training program in the stadium? How about a 24-hour fitness facility there for nearby residents? Any other ideas? The Task Force welcomes them.

2. Someone must explain and justify why a new Vikings stadium needs a roof.

Seems like everyone is happy about an undomed Twins ballpark. Fresh air, the stars and sleet are us. Is a $200 million roof justifiable so that a few high school games can be played there? Or an NCAA Final Four every 10 years? This needs to be examined and justified. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission is pushing for the roof. As a public agency, it must provide us with the cost benefit of a roof for the community. I ask, “Why not an open-air football stadium?”

The only answer I’ve heard is that Greater Minnesota legislators won’t vote for a facility without a roof. How about if the stadium is $200 million cheaper? Ya think that might affect their thinking? Ya think a cheaper stadium could gain some public support in these troubled economic times?

3. Why must a football stadium cost $900 million, or about the same as the entire Central Corridor light rail project?

We must bring the price down. Somehow. And, of course, we must maximize private funding, especially from Wilf and his team.

4. This Task Force will seek information from the University of Minnesota, its architects and designers of TCF Bank Stadium about the viability of enlarging that facility to 70,000 seats for the use of the Vikings.

Can luxury suites be added in a rational way? Can pricey club seats be added? At this point, it’s likely impossible, I know, but we need to leave no Kasota stone unturned. Let’s examine every possibility. Staff, we need this within a month.

5. It seems trendy, it seems pandering, but this is a must. Any new Vikings stadium must be as green and environmentally responsible and sustainable as possible.

I will not sponsor any bill that doesn’t seek the highest standards and guidelines. One reason — not the only reason, of course — that the Metrodome is outdated is its incredible energy and maintenance costs.

6. As chairman of this Task Force, I hereby order and direct staff to begin conversations with Mr. Wilf, his aides, lawyers, accountants and locker room attendants to investigate the prospect of the state of Minnesota gaining a sizable ownership stake in the team as part of any stadium deal.

In 2009, with the U.S. government owning parts of auto companies and banks, why shouldn’t the citizens of Minnesota own a piece of an NFL team? We will hear from the Vikings about a “public-private partnership.” Let’s have a true partnership.

During the Twins ballpark debate, many of us pooh-poohed a public ownership notion, promoted mostly by activist Julian Lozcalzo. It’s time to re-examine Lozcalzo’s idea.

7. The Vikings must open their books to the public, and those finances must be examined by auditors appointed by the Legislature. If there is public funding or financing to be had here, we need to understand the differences among the Vikings and other NFL teams, particularly those in the NFC North division.

We also must seek an appraisal, from a responsible sports finance agency, of the value of the team in the Metrodome, in a new Minnesota stadium and, should it occur, in a new city. These appraisals will help guide all of us through this painful process. And also aid us in any public ownership conversation.

8. The Vikings and their supporters continue to assert that construction of the stadium will “create” thousands of jobs. Where’s the proof?

We need a third-party analysis of such a claim. Won’t these jobs exist if we build public housing or university labs instead? Let’s get these numbers and examine them. Empirical studies have long concluded that stadiums don’t create jobs.

9. This morning, I directed task force counsel to look into obtaining from Mr. Wilf and his partners a pledge that he will have no conversations or negotiations with any prospective buyers from outside Minnesota for a period of two years.

We will seek a pledge from Mr. Wilf that he will roll up his sleeves and think outside-of-his-shopping-mall-developer box to solve the Vikings’ stadium issue. If we’re thinking creatively, he must do so, too.

Frankly, sir — and I know you’re watching this on The Uptake — if you insist on leveraging a new stadium for some cockamamie development around the stadium, you will lose political support. If this stadium effort is just a real estate play for you, it will not fly. Unless, of course, you want to build the stadium privately, with your own alleged millions and billions and zillions. We’ll help you with roads and sewers, no problem. See me after this meeting and we’ll make a deal.

Then, this Task Force can move onto other pressing matters … such as refurbishing Target Center.

One other thing: Our lawyers are drawing up papers urging Mr. Wilf to waive his First Amendment right, and those of his lobbyists, so that they are prohibited from uttering the words “Los Angeles,” “time is running out,” and “Zygi may want to keep the team here, but we can’t be sure about his partners.”

10. The Minnesota Department of Management and Budget has been asked to compile for this Task Force the varieties of taxes and fees that other communities have used to help fund sports and recreation facilities. Other middle-size cities and states have helped to pay for sports, arts and cultural assets with creative funding mechanisms, and some traditional ones, such as hotel and rental car taxes. Let’s look at them all. Let’s debate them. But let’s have a full conversation. Staff, I’d like that list with two weeks.

And we are hereby requesting from the Vikings organization a full report of their market study — you’ve done one, yes, Mr. Lobbyist? — of whether the Twin Cities — with two arenas and two new stadiums — can support even more corporate suites and club seats, and another naming rights deal. Also, please share with us any surveys you’ve conducted with your season ticket holders about how much they are willing to invest in seat licenses to retain their seats in a new stadium. We are expecting fans and corporate sponsors to pay for a large chunk of this project.

If I may digress … One thing that really ticks me off is those people who complain about rich owners and rich players but who sit in front of their TV every Sunday and cheer for the Vikings and tweet to each other about it. Couch potatoes, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t embrace a product, live and die with it, and then not help pay for it.

Well, I see our time’s up. I appreciate all your input today. It was a robust discussion. Great insights from all of you. We’re making progress. Let’s meet again next week. Mr. Favre, sorry we took you away from your deep-muscle massage. Thanks for the autographed picture.

This first meeting of the 2009-10-11 Minnesota Stadium Task Force is hereby adjourned. Now, let’s get to work.

All in favor say ‘Aye.’ All opposed, say ‘Nay.’ The ayes have it.

Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.