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Farmers Market site gaining momentum for Vikings stadium

The new word du jour in the Vikings stadium initiative is “cluster.”

But a time-honored stadium modus operandi is back: The Twin Cities business community is alive and kicking hard behind-the-scenes, just like it did in the late 1970s when it pushed for the Metrodome.

Among the CEOs now working with the Vikings are those from U.S. Bank, Ecolab, Wells Fargo, Best Buy, General Mills, Medtronic and Target, the team’s chief lobbyist, Lester Bagley, said Wednesday.

The bottom line: A key group of business leaders and a political veteran of earlier stadium battles seem to be coalescing around a new site — the Minneapolis Farmers Market downtown location — that they believe would leverage the cluster of activity around Target Field, Target Center and the citys entertainment district.

Ballpark ‘player’ Opat getting involved
Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat, for example, now is paying close attention to the Vikings stadium dance. Lest we forget, Opat is the elected official who, more than any other, got the Twins’ Target Field deal done in 2006.

In an interview with MinnPost Wednesday, Commissioner Opat was his usual shrewd self. “I’m being vague,” he said, “because I am vague.”  

But Opat, the former prison guard, always has something up his sleeve, and he is a man of many sleeves. Everyone says Opat is in the middle of what’s percolating, but he downplays his role. For now.

View Vikings stadium site in a larger map
The shaded stadium site, which includes the Minneapolis Farmers Market, is near other city entertainment options.

“The place to focus is, ‘What are the Vikings willing to pay and is the state’s money real?'” Opat asked.

Frankly, we don’t know the answers to those questions.

He went on: “The next question to answer is, ‘Can a local government, in good conscience, support this [Vikings stadium] effort while it takes the body blows from everything else the Legislature is debating?”

Good questions. But be certain of this: Mike Opat is a “cluster” guy.

Political complications plentiful
No hearings in either the House or Senate have yet been scheduled for a Vikings bill, and the Legislature’s May 23 deadline is 25 days away. There remains a stadium bill on the table whose finances don’t add up and which is site neutral, which makes it difficult to get legislative votes.

The state’s dire budget situation remains headed for the proverbial end-of-session train wreck. Gay marriage, Voter ID and abortion bills are causing ideological divides. The education systems are under attack. Health and human services are being hammered.

“The bill probably will not move until there is some kind of framework on the budget deal,” Gov. Mark Dayton’s stadium point man, Ted Mondale, said Wednesday. “Were you to push a Vikings bill right now, all discussion would stop, and there’d be a firing squad line on both sides of the aisle. They would shoot the stadium bill dead, then go back on to their work.”

Ted Mondale
Ted Mondale

As Mondale and others wait for the right time, we suggest watching some key moving parts in the Vikings stadium game. A few emerged Wednesday at a luncheon of 100 or so Minneapolis Downtown Council members on the 50th floor of the IDS Center — a fortuitous venue.

From that bird’s-eye view, one could gaze down at an aging Target Center arena, a successful Target Field and a huge plot of land to the west of the Twins ballpark where a Vikings stadium might nicely fit.

Call it a potential “cluster” of sports and entertainment facilities, and understand that the corporate powers in downtown Minneapolis have fingered that 49-acre site as the best for a Vikings stadium.

Unlike Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson, who prefer to see a stadium built on the current Metrodome site, the business leaders in the Central Business District are driving momentum for this parcel known as the Farmers Market site or North Loop site. They include the likes of U.S. Bank’s Richard Davis and Target Corp.’s property development vice president, John Griffith.

At least a half-dozen companies have contributed money to hire former Minnesota Wild President Jac Sperling to design a workable deal. A Wells Fargo spokesperson confirmed to MinnPost Wednesday that the bank has kicked in $25,000, and that’s what the others have, too, we’re told.

Sperling helped broker the deal that brought the National Hockey League to St. Paul, and he has struck many other mega-sports business deals around the country, from team sales to stadium finance plans and leases. He is being paid by folks who favor this Farmers Market site.

One other guy does, too. That’s Chairman Opat. On this, he is not vague.

“I have no interest in pursuing any involvement with the Vikings stadium that is not in the lower North Loop,” Opat said. “I have no interest in the existing Metrodome site . . . I’m not willing to work on it. I will not vote for it. I don’t think that site does anything for anybody except the Vikings.”

Mike Opat
Mike Opat

Let’s just say that the mayor of Minneapolis and the County Board chair are not on the same page. Do not expect any city-county partnership.

Is the price right?
Farmers’ Market area advocates see a need to better develop the core Central Business District and Minneapolis’ North Loop. They see that cluster of sports facilities and a redeveloped Block E as a more attractive project than simply rebuilding a Vikings stadium at the Dome site, on the other end of town.

In varying ways, and at different times, other cities have paired and/or clustered stadiums and arenas; Kansas City, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Seattle, to name a few. Some of that has occurred in downtowns. Some in other urban neighborhoods or close-in suburbs. (Remember when Metropolitan Stadium and Met Center arena shared the same parking lots in Bloomington?) It’s called synergy and it makes sense.

At Wednesday’s  Downtown Council meeting, I counted the word “cluster” mentioned at least once by four different speakers.

For someone who says he hasn’t been involved much, Opat rattles off the advantages of the Farmers Market site:

• Parking garages for Target Field, Target Center and downtown workers are already in place.

• Potential for redevelopment near there is high.

• The entertainment district is within walking distance.

• Freeways are in place.

• Light rail and high-speed rail, as planned, will all land right near there, just outside Target Field’s front door.

Meanwhile, the Downtown Council is working on a plan called Downtown 2025, and the council’s president, Sam Grabarski, recently told the Twin Cities Business Journal that the current Metrodome site could be more of a neighborhood — linked to the housing near the Guthrie Theater — if the Vikings facility went in the North Loop.

Oh, did we mention the Vikings are also looking at Arden Hills in the Ramsey County suburbs as a site? Backers of that plan are working hard, too.

That brings us to price, and this is where the Metrodome site seems to have a leg up. A detailed analysis comparing the potential costs of a Dome rebuild, the Farmers Market land and the Arden Hills sites is soon to be released by Mondale.

We’re hearing that the clever architects at Minneapolis’ own Ellerbe Beckett, who refurbished Chicago’s Soldier Field, Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and New Orleans’s Superdome, have a sweet plan to bring down the cost of a fixed-roof stadium on the Dome site to somewhere near $700 million.

It’s likely that a Farmers Market deal costs, at least, $150 million to $200 million more than that. A January study performed by a Minneapolis city-paid consultant predicted the Farmers’ Market site could cost as much as $111 million more than a Dome site, but that was before the Sports Facilities Commission turned to Ellerbe for a less-expensive stadium.

Arden Hills is likely even more expensive than the Farmers Market site because of infrastructure — road and land cleanup — costs. But, for now, we’re not sure.

Logic and realpolitik suggest the lower the cost, the better, particularly in this political and economic environment, with the state $5 billion in the hole, and poor people getting hammered by budget cuts. But among insiders, there’s a difference of opinion about a stadium price point.

Some lobbyists believe that lawmakers will be either for or against a stadium on its own and that the price doesn’t matter as much in the decision.

Others disagree, thinking there are many potential votes at the Capitol to be had from nervous lawmakers — all up for reelection in 2012 — if the facility is cheaper. The theory goes that a lawmaker might be able to hold his nose and vote yes for a $700 million stadium to “save the Vikings.” But there’s no way he pushes that green “yes” button for something with “the ‘B’ word,” meaning a billion or more.

Opat warns against fixating on the price or land acquisition costs.

“I think there’s a long way to go on all that,” he said. “To get bogged down in site costs is a mistake because there’s going to be site costs and alleged site costs.”

The Vikings’ Bagley bluntly told the Downtown Council lunch group: “It’s much more about a local partner than it is about the site. There are three sites in play, but importantly, what are the finance arrangements?”

There’s another tricky operational issue with the Dome site. If, as Mondale put it, “you blow it up” after the final Vikings game of 2011, the team needs a place to play for, probably, three seasons. The most likely candidate is the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium. The team is claiming it will “suffer” about $19 million per year in lost revenue because of the smaller capacity and the loss of suite and naming rights revenues, among other things. Mondale places that loss closer to $15 million. It all could come out of any team up-front investment, but it is a clunky problem if the Dome site is used.

If another site is selected, the team could play in the Dome until the new stadium is ready.

How does a deal happen?
That still leaves how the darn thing gets paid for. Gov. Dayton laid down a bit more of his gauntlet earlier this week saying on Minnesota Public Radio that the team must kick in 40 or 50 percent.

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost/James Nord
Gov. Mark Dayton

In the current bill, the state has, in theory, about a $300 million potential stake in there. But the bill will change.

That leaves the rest for the so-called local partner. What’s out there? An increase in a city-wide or county-wide hotel tax? Gov. Dayton’s interest in rental car taxes? Could be.

An extension of the controversial Hennepin County .015 percent sales tax that Opat successfully got passed for the Twins ballpark? No way, said Opat. That revenue stream is specifically dedicated to Target Field.

How about the oft-mentioned taxes that fund the Minneapolis Convention Center’s debt, which is set to be paid off by the year 2020? Mayor Rybak and Council President Johnson have emphatically stated that bundle of city-only sales, entertainment, restaurant, bar and lodging taxes is off-limits because the Convention Center needs its own renovations and improvements.

Opat, who grew up in Minneapolis but now lives in Robbinsdale, isn’t so sure. “I don’t control that money,” Opat said of the city taxes, “but I think it’s a valid point that there’s a lot of money that accrues. I think [using Convention Center taxes] is an interesting notion,” he said, echoing the view of some legislators, including DFLers.

Gaming? Talk to lobbyists in the hallways of the Capitol and just about all of them — whether they’re for gambling or not — always come around to gambling of some form — bar and restaurant electronic pull tabs? — as one piece of any final state budget and Vikings deal.

How about some substantial cash from the companies backing a stadium, an effort they say helps to lure and retain top employees to the Twin Cities? Could each of them get their shareholders to approve $10 million or $20 million in corporate dough to put a stadium funding plan over the top? Call it a user fee.

A quick check of state Campaign Finance Board records reveals that stadium-backers do spend freely to gain access to legislative leaders. Last time we looked, Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature.

Davis of U.S. Bank gave $1,000 to GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, and Doug Baker of Ecolab gave $2,000 to Emmer. Gregg Steinhafel, CEO of Target Corp., which has become downtown’s major player, gave the Republican Party of Minnesota $25,000 in 2010. Timberwolves owner Glenn Taylor, whose team would like to see a Vikings bill set the mood for a $155 million Target Center renovation, gave $90,000 to the GOP.

Reggie Fowler, who once tried to buy the Vikings but who retained a tiny piece when Zygi Wilf bought the franchise, gave $2,500 to the GOP Senate Victory Fund. Leonard Wilf, Zygi’s cousin and a team partner, gave $4,000 to  the fund, and Zygi Wilf $3,500. Zygi’s brother Mark gave $4,300 to the House Republican Caucus fund. (Zygi Wilf also gave to the DFL House and Senate caucuses.)

Thus, a Vikings stadium stew is being stirred.

There’s a huddle of CEOs with political clout working on it. There’s Commissioner Opat, worried about substantial cuts to Hennepin County for more core services, but monitoring the process, his opaque sleeves poised to be to rolled up.

There’s the cost issue, which could turn the Dome site into the practical option. But counter that with the power of a big idea like a football stadium next to a baseball stadium next to a multipurpose arena at the confluence of rail lines and adjacent to the Central Business and entertainment districts, with a spiffed-up Farmers’ Market thrown in for good measure.

One might say we’ve got a cluster of things to keep our eyes on.

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.

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Dion Goldman on 04/28/2011 - 11:09 am.

    Good info with thoughtful consideration of a new Vikes Stadium in the north loop. Florida takes in tons of revenue from tourists via extra car rental taxes and hotel taxes. These taxes are almost invisible to tourists. Minnesota could do the same to help finance a new stadium.

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 04/28/2011 - 11:16 am.

    “Gregg Steinhafel, CEO of Target Corp., which has become downtown’s major player, gave the Republican Party of Minnesota $25,000 in 2010.”

    Strange how these corporate fatcats are all about low taxes & small government until its time to tax the masses for business subsidies.


  3. Submitted by Richard Parker on 04/28/2011 - 11:34 am.

    OK, OK… Let’s build Target Stadium right near Target Center and Target Field, and replace the failed Block E with a big Super Target Greatland store. Good thing the state and city coffers have a surplus of money and there aren’t any more pressing issues to occupy the time and attention of our lawmakers.

  4. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 04/28/2011 - 11:39 am.

    The Hennepin County commissioners I’ve spoken to recently say they won’t consider the Vikings stadium issue unless the team contributes at least 50% of the project’s cost.

    The overriding criterion when it come to stadium site selection is $$$.

    Are Minneapolis and Hennepin County willing to make a fair and reasonable stadium contribution?

    And the state should NOT make the “host” community’s contribution.

    Why is the state scheduled to collect nearly $30 million from all those “NEW” taxes in the proposed bill. That would fund well over $500 million in stadium debt. I thought the state’s contribution was supposed to be one-third.

  5. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 04/28/2011 - 11:58 am.

    Skip Humphrey doesn’t live here anymore.

    I don’t care where a new stadium is built. To pay for it expand gambling at Canterbury. There is all the hubub over the British Royal wedding. Pro sports are the USA royalty.

    I am shocked! I mean shocked! Indoor smoking is allowed at Mistake Lake (and the other Native American casinos) Not a peep from all of those who think we can never do enough to restrict smoking. Other states manage to restrict smoking at Native American casinos.

    If the expansion is at Canterbury 90%+ will be drawn from Mistake Lake.

  6. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 04/28/2011 - 12:15 pm.

    So much for pro-business unless it is major corporation. The Minneapolis Farmer’s Market is a carefully developed set of what is the largest gathering of small and private businesses in the state.

    Let’s be sure to kill that for the good of the already rich.

    Put it to a Minneapolis referendum like it is supposed to be by law and see how far that goes. Of course they won’t!

  7. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 04/28/2011 - 12:20 pm.

    So the word of the day is “cluster” as in “cluster-f#@k. ” (When a large group of people are standing around, with no idea of what they’re doing, that always seem to get in your way.)

    In our case it will be more sinister. No doubt Hennepin County would use the excess revenues being generated by the ill-gotten 0.15% sales tax that’s funding Target Field. Instead of paying off those bonds early and stopping the local option sales tax, the excess will fund the Vikings stadium and the youth sports and library funding will be at risk too. Remember the Twins stadium bill says up to $2 million/y for youth sports and libraries. A single dollar would satisfy that requirement.

    And will the 0.15% sales tax end when the Twins bonds are paid off? I seriously doubt it.

  8. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 04/28/2011 - 12:38 pm.

    Results of polls showing 75% of the population opposed to public financing of a new Vikings’ stadium are being ignored by both political parties. The GOP legislature wants same sex marriage put up for an admendment to have people decide, but then ignores people’s wishes on the stadium. Of course, one issue is big business and the other not.

  9. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/28/2011 - 12:47 pm.

    How many businesses (and Mary’s Place) will have to bought out?

    And at what cost? It is ludicrous to believe that this is an economical alternative to anything.

  10. Submitted by Erica Mauter on 04/28/2011 - 01:56 pm.

    So then where does the Farmers Market move to?

  11. Submitted by Madeline Anderson on 04/28/2011 - 01:58 pm.

    Should be fun to watch how the Star Tribune tries to shape the debate in its favor of selling the land it owns near the Dome.

    At the paper, the “cluster” idea is likely followed by the four letter word that sometimes follows cluster.

  12. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/28/2011 - 02:47 pm.

    Tony S. (#7) is absolutely right. The farmers market is a treasure for all the neighborhood’s residents and for others from throughout the metro.

    Would it be right to destroy the market to “save” a billionaire and his money-making sports team while depriving tens of thousands of residents of a wonderful source of inexpensive, freshly-picked produce and flowers?

    Especially when the billionaire could well afford to build his own stadium — especially if he simply expanded the dome to get what he wants in a stadium that he’d like others to mostly pay for.

  13. Submitted by Lauren Maker on 04/28/2011 - 03:25 pm.

    And then there’s the issue of where to move the Farmers’ Market.

    It’s ironic that both the City and the County currently are encouraging their residents to eat healthier foods that are locally grown, but don’t seem to see a problem with disrupting or perhaps destroying the Farmers’ Market–a source for healthy, affordable locally grown foods that are accessible, particularly to Northside residents (many of whom tend to be low income).
    No one seems to be discussing where does the Farmers’ Market go if that’s the site. The Farmers’ Market is a great site for the Farmers’ Market, as it’s readily accessible, good infracture already in place, good transportation access, and is even within walking distance of much of the Northside. Why we would want to get rid of a public treasure that helps people eat healthier, and reduce medical costs, private and public?
    And there doesn’t seem to be much concern over the adverse impact of these small businesses involved in the Farmers’ Market. Hey, small businesses only create 80% of new jobs (as per the SBA), why should we worry if they bite the dust because Downtown Big Business wants a new temple to the sports gods at taxpayer expense in their backyard?
    Focused like a lazer beam on jobs, jobs, jobs. . . .

  14. Submitted by Jay Weiner on 04/28/2011 - 03:25 pm.

    Dear Readers and Commenters,

    I am generally reluctant to weigh in with comments. My view is I got my 2,000 words and you’re entitled to your 2 cents.

    But it’s my understanding that the Farmers Market would be preserved somehow on that site.

    I can’t imagine it would go away, but, rather, would be incorporated into the site.

    The Sharing and Caring Hands complex would also be affected, it seems. Mayor Rybak has been adamant about that not happening. But that still has to unfold.

    As for acquisition costs: that same consultant’s report I reference that spoke of a possible $111 million difference in costs between the Dome site and Farmers Market/ North Loop site, concluded that buying out properties there would be about $47 million.

    As a point of comparison, the Dome land without the stadium has a projected market value of, depending on the analysis and the economy’s recovery, of between $15 million and $23 million.

    Hope that helps.

    Carry on.

  15. Submitted by Lauren Maker on 04/28/2011 - 04:06 pm.

    For folks who are thinking that the Vikings are able to play at TCF stadium should the Dome site be developed–think again.

    The U promised the surrounding neighborhoods that they would not have the Vikings as a tenant at TCF Stadium, as the Vikings fans are too hard a partying crowd for community tastes (ask the Minneapolis PD).

    I can’t imagine the Vikings agreeing to no tailgating and no booze as part of any lease agreement, short or long term.

    And I can’t imagine the U disrupting their hardfound peace with the community over TCF Stadium by having the Vikings at TCF Stadium.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 04/28/2011 - 04:33 pm.

    “Are Minneapolis and Hennepin County willing to make a fair and reasonable stadium contribution?

    “And the state should NOT make the “host” community’s contribution.”

    I strongly disagree. This is a state obligation, and Minneapolis and Hennepin County should not foot the bill for it. Indeed as a condition to any participation of Hennepin County in the Vikings deal, I would require that the state assume that portion of the cost of the Twins Stadium currently imposed on Hennepin County taxpayers for no good reason I can see.

    I am all for putting the stadium in Fairmont or Moorhead, the two cities represented by the stadium bill’s sponsors.

  17. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 04/28/2011 - 09:13 pm.

    The Farmers Market share the site? Not hardly.

    Harvest is still coming in when football season starts. Sunday is a huge market day. That aint gonna work. After killing frosts there is a major pumpkin market and after that the place is covered with Christmas trees with vendors actually moving quarters right onto the property. None of these are compatible with Sunday home games.

    This season opens April 30 and it will be a sea of flowers, bedding and garden plants and nursery stock, perhaps the widest selection in this region over the season.

    BTW the Nicollet Ave market is a satellite of the main market. Putting the Vikings stadium on the main market site threatens both facilities.

  18. Submitted by Dan Friberg on 04/28/2011 - 11:43 pm.

    LM, although the Farmers Market is on the north side of downtown geographically speaking, it is separated from North Minneapolis proper by a wasteland of light industry and by Interstate 94. (94, incidentally, is a HUGE divider and a big culprit for long-term North Side development ills.) As a Northsider myself, the Famers Market does not feel like part of the neighborhood. The North Loop in general is a world away. I actually think it might be a good thing to move the market because the current site is cramped and not well integrated with the city itself. It could flourish even more if it had more space and more proximity to something other than the freeway and Metro Transit headquarters. How about relocating the Market to the other side of 94 into the “Basset Creek” development area? Same freeway access, near a stop on the proposed Southwest Corridor LRT alignment, and with true proximity to the North Side. Or maybe put it on the Dome site itself within a new, pedestrian-friendly, “green” neighborhood? I would consider that a victory for density and sustainability. Anyway, as many issues as there are with a proposed stadium, I do not think relocating the Farmers Market is one of them, and certainly not in terms of the impact such a relocation would have on North Minneapolis.

  19. Submitted by Kevin Judd on 04/29/2011 - 12:22 am.

    Upgrade the dome; offer the Vikes $50M tops. Let Zigi buy the Strib land and develop it. Save the farmer’s market. No new taxes on downtown; it already costs a fortune to shop there.

    Just say no. no. no. no. Ted Mondale, say no. Mark Dayton, say no.

  20. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/29/2011 - 02:23 pm.

    You’ll notice everyone is getting behind this deal with everything except their own money. These sports stadiums are the weirdest government subsidies on the planet. Normally when someone asks the government for money you have to produce a proposal of some kind, you have to lay out a plan, and explain what your doing, why it’s important, and why you need and deserve money from the government. These stadium deals? Owners just make it known somehow that they want a new stadium and then sit back and wait for the money to materialize. Everyone’s got plans except the guys who claim to need a new stadium. Does Ziggy show up at the capital with a plan? No, he just walks around saying he’s sure someone will come up with a plan, just let him know when someone’s got his money.

    Anyways, I just completed a devastating analysis of MN sports subsidies on my blog:

  21. Submitted by Mike Hicks on 04/29/2011 - 05:20 pm.

    Someone came up with a plan several years ago to build a new stadium right next to the Metrodome, allowing it to stay open while a new venue was constructed. I think it was on the east side where there is a big parking lot now. It’d probably require 11th Ave to be closed and a block-long stretch of 5th St. to be rerouted, but you could probably squeeze something in there.

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/01/2011 - 08:13 pm.

    This farmers market location looks kinda daft to me. Can they find a location in the city that’s even more cut off from the downtown core?

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