As clock ticks on Vikings stadium effort, a fuller vision for Farmers Market site emerges

Urban planners David Albersman and Donald Armstrong, and developer Bruce Lambrecht have developed a North Loop Vikings stadium vision.
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Urban planners David Albersman and Donald Armstrong, and developer Bruce Lambrecht have developed a North Loop Vikings stadium vision.

Bruce Lambrecht closes his eyes, dreams about the North Loop neighborhood, about links to North Minneapolis, about a “sports corridor” that runs from Target Center to a new transit hub, and he sees things that others don’t.

A dozen years after his first sports facility epiphany, Lambrecht now sees a new Vikings football stadium with lots of stuff around it on the Farmers Market site, a 47-acre plot of land that others embrace, too.

Way back in 1999, Lambrecht looked at a surface parking lot near the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center — known more bluntly as the “garbage burner” — and he saw a Twins ballpark.

No one else did … until they did.

Eventually, after a doozy of a legal battle with Hennepin County, Lambrecht and his partners were paid $29 million for that lot, and today, Target Field stands there triumphantly.

Lambrecht, 61, is back, and he’s weighing in on where a new Vikings stadium should be located. He said he’s a general partner in three warehouse and office buildings near the potential Farmers Market site, but none on it.

But he and the principals of the Albersman & Armstrong planning firm conducted their own study analysis placing a stadium in the North Loop area versus on a Minneapolis City Hall-backed spot on the current Metrodome location.

We wrote extensively about this last week, about how converging forces in downtown Minneapolis and Hennepin County have picked up the drumbeat for the Farmers Market site. As David Albersman, Lambrecht’s colleague put it, “We didn’t invent” the site for a stadium.

But Lambrecht and Albersman have put some qualitative, quantitative and useful meat on the bone for all of us to consider.

Using 10 categories that relate to stadium vibrancy, urban needs and the city’s existing North Loop plan, they rate the Farmers Market site as better in nine ways than the Metrodome site.

In their view, for instance, there is more parking, better roadway access, better bus and rail convergence, closer proximity to the skyway system and more existing bars and restaurants nearby than in the Dome area.

Also, they see the North Loop as the sports and entertainment district of downtown. By contrast, they see the Dome area as a housing, medical and educational zone, what with a variety of hospitals, nearby riverfront residential units and the proximity to the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College.

Only in the dicey area of land assembly does Lambrecht’s analysis show the Farmers Market site at a disadvantage. That’s because there are 17 property owners, and acquisition would be far trickier than for the Dome site or, for that matter, the Arden Hills property.

(I hate to always make Arden Hills an afterthought. Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett is pushing for it, as he should, but it’s hard to take seriously as a Vikings location that makes sense as a statewide asset. However, it seems to be a solid contender.)

Sharing and Caring’s fate
Lambrecht, Albersman and Armstrong have support, from at least one unlikely backer: Sharing & Caring Hands, the homeless shelter and oasis for hungry children and adults situated on the piece of land in question.

The Lambrecht plan would keep in place the institution founded by Mary Jo Copeland. Copeland’s husband, Dick, who is the president of the nonprofit, told MinnPost Monday that he and Mary Jo have never objected to a Vikings stadium concept. But, apparently, a Hennepin County plan would remove their facility.

“They don’t need our land,” Dick Copeland said. “There’s really no need to take our spot.”

He is convinced that city and county officials would love to take him out of the area. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has said he opposes any hardship for Sharing & Caring, and the mayor, of course, favors building a new stadium on the current Metrodome site.

(By the way, in chatting with Twins officials and Copeland, Sharing & Caring and Target Field co-exist as friendly neighbors.)

If the Copelands are on board, that’s one messy political hurdle cleared for any Farmers Market stadium site. It’s just not good tactics to chase homeless children off a site while bringing in a subsidy for a pro sports owner.

Right time to make a case
Lambrecht told MinnPost Monday that he was unveiling his analysis now because there is special value to the Farmers Market/North Loop site, and because there “needs to be a conversation” about the best site, not a fait accompli that the Dome site must be the place, if the stadium is built in the city.

As of Tuesday morning, Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat hadn’t seen Lambrecht’s comparison of the Dome and Farmers Market sites. Nor Mayor Rybak and Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Ted Mondale. And no legislators have seen it.

This is the point for sure: If there’s a Vikings stadium built with public funds, doesn’t the public need a fully vetted site discussion?

A sports and entertainment corridor in the North Loop designed by Albersman Armstrong.
Albersman Armstrong
A sports and entertainment corridor in the North Loop designed by Albersman Armstrong.

After Lambrecht first mentioned the current Target Field site in 1999, and after years of discussion, a group called the C-17 (PDF) was formed to analyze locations.

It took this high-level group of citizens and experts a full 18 months to come to a conclusion. It wasn’t jammed down anyone’s throat. The team didn’t pick it.

This time, the legislative session is set to end May 23.

“They’re running out of time,” said Lambrecht. “What we’re trying to do is create a conversation about the Farmers Market based on the real attributes.”

Another interested observer is David Fields, the veteran community development coordinator with the Elliot Park Neighborhood Inc. Fields’ group active near the Metrodome site. He said he’s been in discussions with the Sports Facilities Commission and Vikings for two years now on the future of the site.

But Fields said Monday: “I’ve always been surprised at how many of these major agenda items come so late on the city plate. And even though we’ve seen this coming like a train down the tracks for a number of years, a real serious talk about not only how realistically this can be funded and by whom — and what kind of a local partner you might get, but also where would it be best placed — hasn’t really occurred until the last couple of months. It’s kind of astonishing.”

Myth busting
Lambrecht’s analysis of Farmers Market attributes, the downtown business community’s favorable support and the support of key neighborhood groups, such as 2020 Partners and the North Loop Neighborhood Association, have created buzz for the site.

So far, the Dome site has really only had the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, Mayor Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson as advocates. But, also so far, there’s been no real funding source.

Three years ago, after the wake of the tragic I-35W Bridge collapse, the Urban Land Institute developed a report about the future of downtown, including areas near the bridge.

An advisory panel, in part, wrote this:

“Today, the stadium sits at perhaps the most critical location in Downtown East. Perhaps more than any other factor, it holds the future of the neighborhood. It is strategically located not only at a light-rail station, but also midway between the powerhouse anchors of the University of Minnesota and the CBD.

“Moreover, the Metrodome represents a precious large land assemblage that can be used to create both a neighborhood and a regional anchor. Little question exists that over time, as downtown grows, it will be forced to move east. The speed, character, and quality of that development will be largely determined by the character of the land use at the Metrodome site.

“Whether or not it continues to be used as a sports venue, the site should be required to densify in a mid-rise configuration, incorporate a mix of uses, and provide a landmark design sensitive to the neighborhood it dominates as well as the identity of downtown.”

Fields said his organization has “operated on the assumption” that the new Vikings stadium would be built on the Dome site. But, he acknowledged, if a new stadium weren’t there, it could open up that site for “more housing and neighborhood-scale development.” Indeed, there is an argument that the absence of a new stadium would decrease land values around the Dome site, allowing for more reasonable development on that end of downtown.

But advocates for the Farmers Market site, should not diss the Dome site with bad history. It’s long been the opinion of anti-stadium forces that the Dome is a perfect example of how stadiums don’t generate economic development. All that sprung up near the facility since its 1981 opening was Hubert’s bar across Fifth Street, on Chicago Avenue.

True, but history shows city fathers (and it was all fathers at that point) had no plans for a surrounding entertainment zone to blossom in the 1980s. And that site has long been blocked in by Hennepin County Medical Center and the Star Tribune site.

A decade ago, Chuck Krusell, the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce’s stadium point man, told me that the development of a stadium on that site had nothing to do with an entertainment vision.

“Our interest was in the overall downtown and not whether there’d be a couple of restaurants,” said Krusell, who has since died. “The proximity of entertainment to the stadium was something we didn’t even consider when we picked a site. The question was whether we could get the land and whether it was relatively cheap.”

Two things to consider …
No. 1: No one should make any “economic impact” argument for any stadium, especially a football stadium that houses about 10 major events a year. To the contrary, such an edifice in this stadium-wise community should be located in an area that already has a long-term, rational development plan in today’s — and the future’s — economic reality.

The Pioneer Press this morning quotes Mondale as saying the Vikings like the Arden Hills site in Ramsey County because “It would be a Vikings place.” Perhaps that’s true, but that’s no reason for a public investment. Yes, Vikings ownership will be on the hook for — we hope — as much as half of the cost of the stadium. But if a stadium is truly a “public asset,” then a statewide discussion on location is critical.

The Ramsey County site feels like a 1980s site, not a 21st Century site: surface parking lots, auto-centric, with some dreams that hotels and restaurants will spring up there like dandelions in spring. Good luck on that one.

No. 2: No matter how visionary any of us may be, this entire issue likely comes down to something very basic: cost, including public costs.

Mondale, Gov. Mark Dayton’s stadium czar, repeatedly says he is “agnostic” on stadium location. Taking a page from Krusell’s playbook, Mondale, a pragmatist and dealmaker, seems mostly driven by the potential cost.

All three sites and their backers — Dome/city, Farmers Market/Hennepin County and Arden Hills/Ramsey County — were crunching numbers for a comparison that Mondale will soon release, Mondale said Monday.

“The numbers are still going in the right direction,” Mondale said. “They’re still going down. Having them all knowing this is being put together has created a discipline that is very helpful for the public and the taxpayer. The numbers are going south.”

It could be that the Dome site winds up being the cheapest. That could trump any larger visions, but Lambrecht and Albersman wonder about that.

In their presentation, they state: “A good location with flaws can be remedied; a bad location without flaws cannot.”

But what’s the difference in the pricing? Lambrecht doesn’t know, nor do we. That will be coming soon. That will aid everyone in analyzing the best site.

Some other factors:

• Politics: Hennepin County Board Chairman Opat and Lambrecht are far from bosom buddies. They banged heads over the outcome on the land sale for Target Field. They barely speak. As much as politics make strange bed partners, so, apparently, do stadiums.

• People’s Stadium: Gov. Dayton used that term when he appointed Mondale. As ill-defined as it is, the term at least has helped us to focus on some essentials: a cost-effective, accessible (not only to fans but employees) facility that blendd in with a community. That generic principle — that this stadium return more to the state than it costs the public and that it have some thoughtful, socially responsible and energy efficient attributes — must be maintained.

• Timing: Is there really enough time to decide the best site for a building that could get $300 million in state subsidy and another couple of hundred million in local funds? A half-billion dollars in public funding in three weeks?

Even Mondale acknowledged: “It’s getting tight.”

The current, flawed bill has a site selection mechanism. Right now, that horizon in the bill is February 2012. That’s too far out. But May 23 might be too soon for a discussion on choosing a site.

In the end, as Mondale said, “The numbers have to work.” So does an overall plan. Lambrecht and partners show that the Farmers Market site might make the most urban sense, if not the most efficient dollars and cents.

But history shows that when Lambrecht closes his eyes and envisions stadiums, we might want to take a look, too.

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 (15)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/03/2011 - 10:05 am.

    Is just me or does these claims seem ridiculous to anyone else around here? Closer to existing bars and restaurants, and skyways? This site is completely isolated, cut off on side by 94 on one side and 394 on the other. go over to the farmers market and walk the nearest restaurant or bar restaurant which is I think Lee’s Liquor Lounge, then try to find another.

    On one hand maybe this plan finally acknowledges that these stadiums don’t promote any local development, so you may as well put them someplace that development will be impossible.

    The thing that bugs me though is the obvious fact that these guys (who are promoting this site) have clearly figured out a way to cash in somehow on this site. That’s the only reason their promoting.

  2. Submitted by Patrick Steele on 05/03/2011 - 10:19 am.

    Why not put the stadium on the dome’s site? The Vikings have an interim location to use and the east side of downtown is the area that could use the revitalization. I’m with Paul, I don’t see the feasibility or benefit of this plan.

  3. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 05/03/2011 - 10:22 am.

    This breathless reporting of every development towards a publically financed stadium (against massive public opposition) is getting tiresome.

    The Wilf’s must love this- we “hope” that they’ll be paying for “as much as half of the cost of the stadium”. How wonderful to let the media and the developers set the negotation ceiling for you; then you can argue down from 50% instead of 100%.

    When the vast majority of citizens want no public funding to go to a stadium, that fact deserves prominent discussion in every stadium piece- I see not even a mention of it here. Does that just get too tiresome to repeat?

    This rush to help build a new palace for the uber-rich is mind-boggling. In the meantime, we all drive on crumbling roads, dodging potholes, and are happy that another million gets added to pothole repairs for the year. So we slap bandaids on infrastructure, rely on charity to bail out our public schools, and in general ignore long-term fixes, and and instead debate on where to plunk down 300-500 million that has it’s single most measurable effect on the net worth of one man. Of course, once built, most will not have the financial means to go to the game, and others (myself included) will go out of their way to never set foot in it.

  4. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 05/03/2011 - 10:47 am.

    As “a general partner in three warehouse and office buildings near the potential Farmers Market site, but none on it” Lambrecht will benefit financially from a stadium on the Farmer’s Market site. Doesn’t mean he’s wrong, but there is a potential conflict.

    Will people walk the approx 3/4 mile to existing dining/entertainment (a nice way of saying bars)? Not likely. They could take light rail, assuming it’s extended as the proposal shows, but how is that different from the dome site?

    There are some real advantages to the Farmer’s Market site from parking and bus access. But tell me how the public (who will be paying at least 50%, probably more) will benefit from having the dome site vacant.

    And why do we always seem to have these articles about the Farmer’s Market site without any mention of the Farmer’s Market itself? Jay, you need to stop over there some weekend morning. (They probably can coexist, but not if it’s just an afterthought.)

  5. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 05/03/2011 - 11:34 am.

    The stadium project’s ultimate cost is an important factor, but not the most important factor. The willingness and ability of a “host” community to make a sizable investment is the determining factor.

    By my calculations Hennepin County invested $200 million too much in the Twins stadium. I don’t see the county making a useful Vikings stadium contribution.

    Minneapolis is limited to a $10 million stadium investment unless there’s a referendum. I doubt state legislators would provide a referendum AGAIN unless Mayor Rybak and the Minneapolis City Council asks for the “waiver.” That’s NOT going to happen.

    That leave us with the Arden Hills site… I think it’s the only logical choice and tailgating before and after Vikings games should not be discounted. I just bought a tailgate parking spot on the Notre Dame campus for $220 on ebay for a game this fall. Tailgating in a downtown parking ramp isn’t going to generate revenues or fan satisfaction.

    Don’t write off Arden Hills… plus many people think the Vikings offense will be more “explosive” playing on the TCAAP site.

  6. Submitted by Bob Quarrels on 05/03/2011 - 11:35 am.

    Jay, two reminders: The local partner on the Farmers’ Market site would be either Hennepin County, already paying for the state’s baseball stadium, or Minneapolis, paying for the pro basketball arena AND, as residents of Hennepin County, the baseball team.

    And hate to tell you, but people drive cars to Vikings games. They always will. What would serve fans is a parking lot for tailgating, not the trolley.

  7. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 05/03/2011 - 12:01 pm.

    Legislation without a specific site is like buying a “pig in a poke.” Few legislators will vote for a bill with an unknown site. I don’t think House and Senate committees will even waste their time hearing such a bill.

    It might be better to introduce three bills, one for each of the sites under consideration. I don’t think the downtown stadium bills would make it out of the first House and Senate committees.

    Zygi should have made his site choice long ago. Where are the stadium renditions worth looking at? Where are the video simulations with stadium views from every angle? What are Zygi’s development plans? Development rights are now the #1 private stadium funding tool… surpassing naming-rights.

    Time to get this stadium show on the road… time’s a wastin’.

  8. Submitted by Andrew Richner on 05/03/2011 - 12:40 pm.

    Harris — Agreed that the benefit Paul speculated on is definitely that the guy owns property nearby. As to whether a new stadium should be built, I totally agree with Dimitri and others that as far as allocation of public money goes, there are plenty of other things that deserve our attention, but I would also make the argument that a stadium IS an infrastructure requirement, and it really should be treated as a public property. In theory. Unfortunately, that’s a hard sell. In any case, what the Vikings and the state need to ask themselves is whether they want Minnesota to have a stadium, or if they want the Vikings to. If the answer is the first one, we should probably go with the Dome site or even Arden Hills. For number two, it should be the Farmers’ Market (and, if you look at the plan on this article, the Farmers’ Market is still there). The Dome site only seems good for the fiscal conservatives.

  9. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 05/03/2011 - 01:01 pm.

    The dome site isn’t really the dome site… it’s the Star Tribune land west of the dome site that make more sense.

    The Metrodome, with its new roof, can be used for the three years it will take to build the new stadium. The subsidy Zygi wants to play in the Gophers stadium is way too high…. I’ve heard he wants a $19 million/y subsidy for lost revenues.

    But we’re back to the “host” community stadium contribution. What may sound like the logical and best choice isn’t necessarily so. $$$ talks and BS walks… Show us the money, Minneapolis or Hennepin County. The state won’t pay your contribution.

  10. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/03/2011 - 01:04 pm.

    (#8)…if you look at the plan on this article, the Farmers’ Market is still there…

    Superimposed letters on a speculative layout mean nothing. If you believe that the owners, players, officials, and media will park in the ramps and walk, sure there might be room for some sort of market.

  11. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 05/03/2011 - 02:24 pm.

    I could only dream that “$$$ talks and BS walks.” There has been no deal with public funds despite years of Vikings owners pleading; so please, walk already. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. What works is the vikings keep whining, they get some high-placed friends to whine with them, convince a critical mass of a gullible public that the team is some sort of priceless asset, and voila, new stadium. That’s the likely outcome here, unless people can really make clear to their legislators that in a time of record defecits, stadiums are not what tax dollars should be spent on. I hold out slight hope that the combination of a hugely profitable league, an unseemly work stoppage, plus a state deeply in debt will make people say “no more,” but it is only a slight hope.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/03/2011 - 09:38 pm.

    Ziggy want us to pay him for not having a stadium while we build him a new stadium? This is absurd. It’s also ridiculous that they’re going to run light rail around the stadium instead of putting that track and money into some actual transportation. The more details come out about this more disgusting it is. We’re cutting funding to disabled children while these jerks are lining up for taxpayer funding. It’s sick.

  13. Submitted by William Pappas on 05/04/2011 - 06:27 am.

    OK developers, if you want to truly do something innovative, figure out how you can do this without spending 300 million of the public’s money. With the exception of traditional infrastructure provided to the site, can this stadium be a bonafide private investment? The economic dynamics of a football stadium are different than baseball, but the morality of the whole thing remains the same: the public cannot afford it unless the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes. Until that time, public funding of stadiums is a thing of the past. The rapid direction of revenue collection toward property taxes and away from high end income demands private investment, not financing by the public. No matter how you slice this lemon, it always comes down to how much the public must sacrifice for billionaires, millionaires and fanatical Viking’s fans.

  14. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 05/04/2011 - 04:18 pm.

    To me it is pretty simple. No Minneapolis referendum, no new stadium in Minneapolis not if Minneapolis tax money is going to be required.

    If the State wants a new stadium let the no new-taxes-guys tax the whole state for it and see how far that goes. Silly me, they promised not to do that, and that should be the end of the discussion. Why are we still kicking what should be a dead horse?

  15. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 05/05/2011 - 05:12 pm.

    Seventeen land owners for the Farmers Market site… No problem… Just pass site specific legislation then go to court to settle the land price. That how you get over $35 million for land worth a third that price.

    And yes, they are stupid enough to do it all over again.

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