Stadiums and arenas: Is ‘global solution’ the answer for Vikes, Wolves, Wild?

Target Center would get a makeover inside and out under a plan unveiled today.
Courtesy of Ellerbe Beckett
Target Center would get a makeover inside and out under a plan unveiled today.

Minneapolis’ aging Target Center is about to seek an eye-popping $155 million renovation.

With this effort to extend its useful life, the 20-year-old arena will move into the bull’s-eye of Minnesota’s enduring stadium and arena debate.

Also bound to hit center stage: the notion of a possible “global solution” for all of the state’s major sports facilities.

Whether there is a political appetite and a common public funding revenue source to help fund a new Vikings stadium, costing at least $800 million, to lift some debt on St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center (perhaps $40 million to $65 million worth) and the new proposed $155 million Target Center plan remains to be seen.

But the NBA Timberwolves, the city of Minneapolis, which owns the arena, and AEG, the entertainment conglomerate that manages the building, are announcing a plan for the renovation at a 1 p.m. news conference today.

We will have design specifics for you as they become available.

Target financing plan not set
But, according to a reliable source, a finance plan for the redo of the arena, which is among the oldest in use in the NBA, has not been developed.

City and team officials have said that the arena has generated more than $100 million in tax revenues into the state coffers over its lifetime. The city bailed out the arena in 1995 when it issued $72 million in public bonds. The state has provided $750,000 a year to help with debt even as the arena kicks back more in taxes annually to the state general fund. 

The city continues to underwrite operating losses of about $1.5 million a year. Here’s a 2009 city breakdown on Target Center financing.

Thus, as we discussed recently, the larger effort to build a new Vikings stadium that has been expected at the Legislature, looks as if it will be accompanied by a collection of sports facilities matters.

We’re told that many of the envisioned improvements at Target Center will aid the building in its ability to play host to non-Timberwolves events, such as concerts and family shows. They will also reposition the entry points of the blocky, ugly building so that it more naturally relates to its new neighbor Target Field, the new Twins ballpark. Concourses would be widened, too. Concession stands would get upgrades, and the connected skyway to parking ramps would be improved.

For the Wolves, who are the main tenants, but whose 40-plus games per year only make up about 25 percent of the building’s use, there are plans for new “clubs” within the arena; these are modern sports facilities amenities that didn’t exist when Target Center was first built for $104 million in the late 1980s by Minneapolis entrepreneurs Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner.

There will be a further reduction of the number of luxury suites, too, and a bow to the changing market for premier seating, away from isolated sports condos within an arena and to more social, bar-like environs.

Renovation pitch: Cheaper than new arena
But, more importantly, city and team officials are expected to make the pitch that a new arena — perish the thought! — could cost upward of $500 million, far more than any renovation costs.

Apparently, Wolves own Glen Taylor is prepared to finance some of the renovations; how much we don’t know yet.

He told the Star Tribune Monday night: “If we could have our wish list, we do what a lot of other communities have done, and that would be have a new facility. But I served in the Legislature. I know the difficulties that the government is facing, so we have never asked for a new facility. What we want is to bring this up to date for our fans. … We want our fans to have the same experience that they would have at Target Field, the Xcel Center or the new football field at the University of Minnesota [TCF Bank Stadium].”

Like the Metrodome, which is 30 years old, Target Center is an aging, tired arena in a sports facilities landscape that is always changing because of the bizarre economics of sports: public subsidies, massive TV revenues, increased franchise values and gigantic player salaries.

In the cities that expanded in the NBA with Minneapolis in 1988 — Charlotte, Orlando and Miami — new arenas have already been built. The new Amway Center in Orlando cost a reported $380 million last year, plus $100 million in land costs.

We first previewed AEG’s vision for a renovation more than two years ago and more specifics of the Timberwolves’ hopes this last spring.

Target Center operators have been talking about fixing up the place for more than a decade.

This new and boffo Target Center renovation plan comes as officials crosstown at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center have been seeking to become “part of the conversation,” if and when a Vikings stadium bill is introduced. That football stadium bill is expected soon. The NHL Wild pay a whopping amount of the debt on the state- and city-funded arena, which opened in 2000.

Arena competition hurts both
This competition between the two arenas — barely 12 miles apart — has been at the heart of both facilities’ woes. Competition for concerts and family shows has led to super deals for artists and promoters, but operating losses for the buildings. The city of Minneapolis has long been underwriting those losses.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s recently announced bonding bill included $8 million for Target Center capital improvements.

AEG, a mega-entertainment company, manages the building and is attempting to stop the bleeding. AEG is led by Tim Lieweke (PDF).

In the late 1980s, a high-energy whippersnapper, Lieweke was the fellow who helped Wolfenson and Ratner build and market their brand new Target Center.

Ironically, Monday night, AEG, which is based in Los Angeles, announced a massive naming-rights deal at a new as-yet-unbuilt NFL stadium, which is bound to lure an existing NFL team to Southern California.

The Vikings have often been mentioned as a candidate franchise for relocation, although there’s no indication that such a move is in the works. Still, fear of a Vikings’ departure, concern that Target Center will become obsolete and efforts to take some debt load off of the Wild in St. Paul are all soon to get shaken together like a nasty cocktail.

Add the swirling proposals for gambling expansion at the state’s horse racing facilities or in bars or at the airport,  add Dayton’s bonding piece for a new St. Paul Saints stadium, ponder the politics of seeking votes from the Minneapolis and St. Paul delegations … and that “global solution” will be kicked around in the months to come.

But is there the appetite?

MinnPost’s Jay Weiner has covered sports facilities issues in the Twin Cities since 1993 and the demise of Met Center and public buyout of Target Center. He is the author of “Stadium Games: Fifty Years of Big League Greed and Bush League Boondoggles,” University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 02/01/2011 - 01:40 pm.

    I think eventually people have to ask if a city can afford professional sports. The huge amounts of money that get sucked out of the economy for this is ridiculous. The Romans knew you could distract the public from the important issues with games

  2. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 02/01/2011 - 03:04 pm.

    Not hungry. Those that benefit can scheme up how to pay for their play-pens. Someone send Glen Taylor and Zygi Wilf the number of Bob Kraft, the patriots owner. He can explain private financing of stadiums, and reassure them that he is still very very very very wealthy, even after building a new stadium for his team.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/01/2011 - 03:30 pm.

    The obvious solution is for the T Wolves to move to St. Paul, and to turn the Target Center into condos.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/01/2011 - 03:31 pm.

    What is breathtakingly clear is that we cannot afford to sports arenas in the Twin Cities area.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/01/2011 - 04:59 pm.

    I don’t get it, these things are all supposed be such economic generators? Why does the public always have to bail them out?

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/01/2011 - 05:01 pm.

    I think the real question is whether or not we can afford professional sports the way it’s become configured economically. We sit around and contemplate cutting so-called “entitlements” because we can’t afford them yet somehow people think we can continue to subsidize a bunch billionaire owners and players of professional sports.

  7. Submitted by William Souder on 02/01/2011 - 05:02 pm.

    I’ll repeat my suggestion for at least one part of a “global solution.” Zigi Wilf has offered to pay one-third the cost of an open-air stadium. Let’s sell him a one-third interest in TCF Bank stadium and put the money into the University of Minnesota.

  8. Submitted by Christopher David on 02/01/2011 - 05:12 pm.

    We can not afford the Vikings Tax, the Wild Tax, the Wolves Tax, and the Saints Baseball Tax. We have actual functions of government that need the money. We may disagree on how much taxes should be, and other things, but can’t we get together in a bipartisan, or even nonpartisan way, to oppose corporate welfare? I believe we can. Join me and dozens of other stadium opponents at http://novikingstax.com/ .

  9. Submitted by Brian Simon on 02/01/2011 - 05:15 pm.

    I’d almost wish for another economic nosedive if thats what it would take to convince the public that its time to stop supporting these bloodsucking ghouls with subsidies for their private enterprises.

  10. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 02/01/2011 - 07:12 pm.

    This is nuts. Would someone please explain how these things are such a great deal for the city, because the constant quest for public cash is really getting old. As a Minneapolis tax payer and resident I have never in my life bought a ticket to a sporting event. It just doesn’t interest me, but I keep paying and paying and paying. I am sick of it.

  11. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 02/01/2011 - 07:20 pm.

    They need to clarify what Target Center is missing. I could understand if after 20 years it needs a bunch of work on the roof or the plumbing, but I go there for Wolves games and it still seems like a good facility. We need jobs, especially in construction, but we’ll get those with a new stadium to replace the dome. I appreciate that Glen Taylor isn’t asking for a new arena and gets the difficult economy, but we’re going to have to impose more.

    The Vikings can point to the collapsed roof that might be a safety hazard even after it’s fixed, and the Dome corridors could be a death trap if there was a large crowd during an emergency. It’s a 30-year-old building built on the cheap and now we’re paying for it. The Saints can also point out that their stadium is old, built on the cheap, non-ADA compliant, and has a bad location while the proposed stadium would be in a great location for mass transit. Plus their stadium is just $25 million, and getting it built while the Central Corridor is being built rather than shoehorning it in later should save money. Both Midway and the Dome get a lot of use. Contrary to common belief, they don’t sit idle when the Saints/Vikings aren’t playing.

    The Wild don’t even have a facility problem, but just want lower rent. They certainly go last, and the Wolves have a sales job even to a fan. The Vikings have the biggest problem, so let’s solve that, and the Saints problem should be the easiest to solve.

  12. Submitted by Christopher David on 02/01/2011 - 09:39 pm.

    The Vikings and Saints don’t have “the biggest problem,” Eric. They all have the same problem: they have a business model based on shaking down the public. The only cure for this problem is telling them to shove it, and move if they so choose. But I can’t afford a Vikings Tax, and neither can the rest of Minnesota. Construction jobs are a good thing to have, but there are worthy projects like roads and bridges.

    Industrial jobs would be good, too, but the government isn’t doing anything about that. This would actually help people.

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/02/2011 - 06:00 am.

    Grimly, and with gritted teeth, I am willing to give the sports community something. The priority has to be the Vikings, because pro football is important to the community in the way that minor sports like hockey and basketball are not. Perhaps as part of a global package, one that includes things which really do matter for our community, a deal could work. But it simply doesn’t make sense to subsidize the duplication of facilities. There is no reason why the T Wolves can’t play in St. Paul. There is no reason we should plow money into a second sports arena in our mid-size community. Families have to make tough choices, and the sports community is going to have to make some tough choices as well.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/02/2011 - 08:22 am.

    Hiram,

    I don’t know how you claim that the Vikings are important to the community when the majority of people in the community are telling the Viking to move if they can’t build their own stadium? Are we just too stupid and ignorant to know how important it is to watch publicly subsidized pro sports? Do we just not understand the value of dumping billions of dollars of public bailouts into the pockets of billionaire owners and players?

    This is not a community thing, it’s a fan thing. And the fans apparently cannot afford to pay for their own entertainment, or pro sports cannot provide that entertainment at a reasonable price. Either way the question is whether or not this special interest will yet again succeed in bilking the the public for yet another involuntary subsidy.

  15. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/02/2011 - 09:03 am.

    “I don’t know how you claim that the Vikings are important to the community when the majority of people in the community are telling the Viking to move if they can’t build their own stadium?”

    How did I do it? That’s easy, I just typed it into my kaypro.

    I don’t really believe what a majority of people are saying about their views. What I do know and believe is that huge numbers of Minnesotans follow the games every week. What I do know is that the games are anticipated on Fridays and talked about on Mondays. What I do know is that during any given week the vast majority of Minnesotans, whether they are fans or not, can tell you whether the Vikings won or lost the previous Sunday.

    “Are we just too stupid and ignorant to know how important it is to watch publicly subsidized pro sports?”

    I don’t know what stupidity and arrogance have to do with that. I think when people say they want the Vikings to move, they are saying a bunch of different things. People are more complicated than pollsters would lead you to believe.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/02/2011 - 09:07 am.

    “pro sports cannot provide that entertainment at a reasonable price.”

    I have always watched the Vikings for free. I think that’s plenty reasonable. Consider the Twins stadium. Much as I have been known to rail against the unconscionable deal Hennepin County made to keep the Twins here, the fact is I did the numbers and I figured it costs me about two bucks a year to keep the Twins here for whatever is the term of the lease. Reasonableness is subjective, but as far as I am concerned, that’s reasonable.

  17. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/02/2011 - 09:13 am.

    Con:

    I don’t recall the exact number, but apparently the number of Minnesotans who attend arts events (theater, music, museums) way outnumber those who attend pro sports games. Is it just that the pro sports owners seek to be the squeaky wheel that the public will surely grease? With the sweat of our brows, perhaps?

    Pro:

    On the other hand, all we’d have to do is to disassemble the public education system (K-12-college) and we’d have plenty of extra money.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/02/2011 - 10:13 am.

    //I don’t really believe what a majority of people are saying about their views.

    So you start from the premise that you don’t believe what people are telling you. By the way, to be clear, what people are saying isn’t that they want the Vikings to move, but that they’d rather see them move than subsidize them. At any rate you cannot declare a such a blatant disregard for public opinion and claim to have the communities best interest at heart at the same time.

    As for all this people you know are watching and waiting for games and whatnot, well like I said, we’re talking about fans, and there’s a difference between being a fan and being a citizen. You’re sports aren’t “free” by the way, just very cheap because because that’s how public subsidy works, it spreads out the costs. Your problem is always that normal people instinctively realize the we should use public subsidies to make things like health care, education, and transportation affordable, not professional sports. Professional sports is supposed to be a private enterprise.

    You like your sports, and you don’t mind screwing your fellow citizens out of billions of public dollars to finance it… we all get that. The question is whether or not the scam will keep working. Your problem is the Republicans have fundamentally broken the states revenue process, and we’re in a recession. We may not be able to pay for social security and subsidize your cheap entertainment anymore. Given a choice we KNOW what people prefer to do whether you choose to believe them or not.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/02/2011 - 10:45 am.

    Hiram,

    I want to apologize, I fear some parts of my previous post came across as more of personal attack than I intended.

  20. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/02/2011 - 10:57 am.

    “So you start from the premise that you don’t believe what people are telling you.”

    Always, and all contexts. People are complicated. They think a lot of different things, and they never express all of those things at once.

    “By the way, to be clear, what people are saying isn’t that they want the Vikings to move, but that they’d rather see them move than subsidize them.”

    And you have stated one conflict there. People don’t want the Vikings to move, and they don’t want to pay for them staying. Those are two different and contradictory things. Which one should determine policy?

    “there’s a difference between being a fan and being a citizen.”

    Well, there’s a difference between being an orange and an orangutan too. I just don’t know that it matters.

    “Professional sports is supposed to be a private enterprise.”

    Who says that? The Great Supposer? Pro sports are a public sort of a deal. The games are in TV, covered in the newspaper and on TV. The events are not conducted in secret, and the results are not confidential.

    “You like your sports, and you don’t mind screwing your fellow citizens out of billions of public dollars to finance it…”

    I pay for lots of stuff I don’t use. Why shouldn’t someone else pay for stuff I use, and in the case of sports they use as well?

    Look, I am not for handing out any blank checks. I think it’s possible to spend too much to keep the Vikings here, and I am not at all a fan of putting a lot of effort in trying to keep bush league operations like pro hockey or pro basketball in town. But I do know one thing. The best deal we will ever get from pro football, is the deal we can get from Zygi now. If we don’t take it, we will inevitably be asking for a worse deal down the road assuming one is even available.

  21. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 02/02/2011 - 11:39 am.

    Maybe if susidizing a new stadium resulted in more affordable tickets, that would be something to talk about. But the thing is when a new public-subsidized stadium is built the ticket prices always go up, way up. The Twins must have doubled or tripled their income per spectator with the new stadium because all the prices went up so much. I can’t afford tickets; I don’t want to pay a tax, no matter how low.

    Sure, Hiram, I talk about sports every week at work. I follow them in the paper and on TV. Before we had the Vikings I was a Green Bay fan as a kid. The fact that the team is geographically close to me does nothing to enhance my experience sitting on the sofa or standing by the water cooler.

    I bought my son a Vikings jersey for Christmas. It was 60-some dollars for a shirt that would have been a third the price if it weren’t NFL-endorsed. To me it is another example of pro sports sucking money out of the economy.

    Believe what people say instead of using your assumptions to judge the truth of what they say.

  22. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 02/02/2011 - 02:22 pm.

    Intrestingly, I have parts of me that identify both with what Mr Foster and Mr Udstrand write. I also enjoy watching the games, and will talk about them the next day, and so get a benefit. On the other hand, I see a small minority (5 I believe?) of NFL teams that have self-financed their stadiums, and are content to just make a lot of money (vs. a very lot), and think that if this can be done, why come begging for public dollars when we are talking about cutting funding to education, medical assistance, and other services that go to less-affluent members of society (well, everyone is less affluent than the NFL).

    I understand that to get as rich as a typical NFL owner, you have probably mastered the art of getting the best deal possible at every opportunity. So to ask them to go against the skills that brought them to where they are is asking a lot- but frankly, when is a better time to ask for a lot from billionaires?

  23. Submitted by Jonah Ballow on 02/02/2011 - 03:34 pm.

    There are over 200 events that make up 75% of the entertainment offered at Target Center. The City of Minneapolis is hoping the renovation will help prolong the life of Target Center as it generates more than $100 million dollars to the local economy. The Target Center is a state asset and the renovation is a way to assure the building continues to produce between $10-15 million dollars in state and local taxes annually.

  24. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/02/2011 - 06:24 pm.

    //And you have stated one conflict there. People don’t want the Vikings to move, and they don’t want to pay for them staying. Those are two different and contradictory things. Which one should determine policy?

    Actually there is no conflict or contradiction here. People like sports, but many people act like adults when it comes to public policy. It’s not just about what you want, especially when your using public dollars to finance it. People are not saying they don’t want the Vikings to move, on the contrary what they say is they’d rather have the Vikings move than use public dollars subsidize pro sports. This has been the consistent public position for decades. Every stadium deal that’s been made since the metrodome has been made over public objections, and without significant public support.

    The double bind you describe is an artificial one because it refuses to contemplate losing a team. The public likes the team, and enjoys it, but like anything else there are limits as to how much they want to pay. The majority of people have always said beyond a certain cost (most recently established as 20 million dollars in Henn Co.) we have to have a referendum. We’re all adults, we all know that refusing to financing means losing a team. It’s not the end of the world, it’s not even a serious inconvenience. In fact one can make a pretty good argument that we’d be better off without these huge sports subsidies and teams.

  25. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/03/2011 - 06:15 am.

    My suggestion,

    A federal pro-sports community restoration tax levied on all pro-athletes and team owners who make more than $500,000 a year. 50% income tax the proceeds of which go back to any city, state, or county that has financed a stadium or arena with public dollars in the last 30 years.

    You have to step back and look beyond the artificial dilemma created by the teams i.e. we don’t have the money to do this ourselves we need public subsidy.

  26. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/03/2011 - 07:00 am.

    People like sports, but many people act like adults when it comes to public policy.

    Well, I see the conflict. People like sports, but they don’t like to pay for them. I have the same attitude towards cable TV.

    There are lots of things like this in politics. People think the defense budget is too high and should be cut, yet politicians know that if they aggressively favor such cuts, they will be attacked as anti defense, and possibly unpatriotic.

    The Twins Stadium is an example. The deal that Hennepin County made to keep the Twins here is quite possibly the worst deal any local government has ever made with a professional sports team, one that borders on the unconscionable. Yet everyone loves the Twins Stadium, nobody in Hennepin County seems to mind the unfair burden they assumed in paying for it, and the folks that made that deal on behalf of the taxpayers they so ill-served, have all been easily reelected in campaigns where the stadium deal barely registered as an issue.

    If the majority of people don’t like taxpayer funded stadiums, why do they elect politicians who use their tax dollars to fund them?

  27. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/03/2011 - 09:12 am.

    “A federal pro-sports community restoration tax levied on all pro-athletes”

    Most emphatically not. A pro athlete works for a living just like many of the rest of us. He should be taxed just the same. The fact is, those pro athletes who are high income earners, pay a huge amount in taxes because they don’t have the tax shelters available to some other folks.

    Pro football players, because of the weakness of their union, and because of the nature of their sport, are in relative terms very poorly compensated, and that’s especially true, given the long term health problems they incur during their playing career. That is in fact one factor that makes a deal with the NFL more appealing. The NFL is run on a fiscally responsible basis by capable businessmen. Most other sports are run by, to put politely, incompetents for whom their involvement in sports is pretty a vanity enterprise. I would much rather partner with the NFL than some of those guys.

  28. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/04/2011 - 07:47 am.

    I’m sorry but it’s completely daft to compare defense spending to pro sports subsidies. Transportation, infrastructure, police, fire etc. are all unambiguously legitimate government activities. Defense is even required by the constitution. You’re not paying for my entertainment with your tax dollars, you paying for your own government. These comparisons are always weak, no other entertainment subsidy even comes close the billions of dollars that have spent on pro sports over the past three or for decades.

    As for athletes and taxes. We need to stop merely trying to protect the public pocket book from these outrageously expensive and inappropriate sport subsidies, we need to start recovering misspent public dollars so they can be re-allocated towards needed services. If you’re getting more than a half million dollars a years to play a game, much less 6-8 games a years, you don’t need my sympathy or my money. The pro sports business model is broken, it unable to sustain itself without public subsidy. If we’re going to subsidize it we need to capture the dollars from an appropriate source, not build stadium on the backs of homeless people. Since 99% of the economic benefit goes to the owners and players, they should bear the financial responsibility for their own subsidy.

  29. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/04/2011 - 09:22 am.

    Daft works in politics, and if you don’t believe me, I give you the Twins Stadium and it’s associated deal, Minneapolis’ own monument to daftitude.

    Deciding what is or is not a legitimate public function is what we have politics and hold elections to decide. If you think the Twins Stadium is illegitimate or unlawful, you are free to sue. If you win, it’s just possible they might tear it down. Dafter things have happened.

    “If you’re getting more than a half million dollars a years to play a game, much less 6-8 games a years, you don’t need my sympathy or my money.”

    If you ask me whether the rich should pay more than the poor in taxes, I would say yes, but I can tell you from a lot of personal experience, that’s an argument I tend to lose a lot. Again, while it has always been my personal experience that while the rich always seem to crave my sympathy for the manifold burdens that wealth so unfairly imposes on them, it has also been my experience that given a choice between my sympathy and the dollars, they almost always choose the latter.

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