Democracy works slowly. It’s designed that way so there’s some comfort level with decisions made and consequences intended.
That should apply to the wacky world of stadiums, too.
That’s why the Vikings stadium process, so unsettled and filled with so many question marks, needs a public huddle and a timeout.
It needs a way out, with a guaranteed way forward.
Such a path exists.
Anyone who’s been at the Capitol the past three days can feel the political and ideological meltdown oozing through the hallways, media briefings and floor sessions.
Even if a new and somewhat improved Vikings bill were to be introduced today, that would leave barely five days to have a full set of hearings on a $1.2 billion project in Arden Hills that would include, it appears, at least $781 million in public subsidies: $300 million from the state, $350 million from a Ramsey County sales tax and another $131 million in road costs still to be resolved.
And that would have to happen in the maelstrom that is the state budget and social values crisis.
The Star Tribune’s Mike Kaszuba presents a compelling case this morning for the sweetheart nature of the Vikings-Ramsey County marriage.
Meanwhile, as much as the Vikings dislike it, a workable Minneapolis plan for a new stadium at the Metrodome site remains about $300 million cheaper than the Arden Hills proposal.
Finally, Gov. Mark Dayton kicked off this stadium go-round four months ago vowing to construct a “People’s Stadium.” In the intoxicating frenzy that always surrounds stadium deals, principles that could help to build a facility that’s best for the state’s public tend to fade away.
The way out is buried in the Vikings bill that was introduced April 11. (Go to line 14.20)
It’s a provision for a new Minnesota Stadium Authority to establish a site selection process.
The section reads: “The authority shall solicit and evaluate proposals for locating a new stadium. The authority shall also make the final selection of a new stadium site.”
It goes on to say, “This authority shall issue a request for proposals for political subdivisions to be selected to finance and construct a stadium for the team.”
The requirements: location, funding details, “a list of amenities, infrastructure, and other improvements that will be offered.” The authority “shall select a winning proposal.”
So, sometime in the next four days, in some committee or on the floors of the two chambers, someone should move a “delete all” amendment to HF 1441 and SF 1164.
Or offer a resolution that’s backed by Gov. Dayton.
It should say that the members of the Legislature support the retention of the Minnesota Vikings and that the team and its ancillary business are important to the state of Minnesota. Yada yada.
And that, because of those factors, a thorough public vetting of any site for a new stadium and any financial arrangement is necessary.
It should provide for the governor, within five days of a settlement of a state budget, to appoint a five-member stadium site selection committee.
It should convene two weeks afterward.
Only one person of those five should be an elected official. (Let’s pick Sen. Julie Rosen because she’s been the leader of this effort. She’s a Republican. She’s from Greater Minnesota. She’s an expert on the matter.)
The other four must have architectural, public finance, sports business and/or development experience or knowledge. Ideally, they are local, but, perhaps a national expert from the Urban Land Institute or a dean of a nationally recognized school of architecture should be considered.
How about a state Supreme Court justice? How about former Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission executive director and former Twins President Jerry Bell? How about Duane Benson, former Minnesota Business Partnership executive director and retired NFL star?
The language in the current bill has the Sports Facilities Commission staffing a site selection board. That would be a mistake, because that agency is aligned with the city of Minneapolis and the Metrodome site.
There needs to be independence. Perhaps the Metropolitan Council is the proper agency to work on this, what with all the transportation and transit issues and the real possibility of a necessary Metropolitan Significance Review. Maybe the Minnesota Management and Budget office should staff the panel.
Within two weeks after the site selection panel is formed, any community or private entity that wants to make a full presentation — site, stadium design, finance plan, local partner — to the committee must do so.
In public. At a hearing that is televised and streamed by legislative media services. As stated in the bill, a website must be established. All documents, plans, graphics, videos must be posted there.
To be clear: The purpose of the hearings is to establish a site and a viable finance plan, not to debate the over-arching merits of a pro football stadium. That debate will rage organically outside the hearings. That debate will ensue at the Legislature when a final bill is written.
Within one month after the presentations are made, the site selection committee must make a recommendation to the governor.
It’s a two-month-and-five-day-long process. It allows for a cooling off. It allows for a certain comfort level for the public. It also allows the NFL’s labor situation to stabilize.
Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Ted Mondale, who is Dayton’s stadium point person, said recently that he didn’t believe the Legislature would approve a “site-neutral” bill. That’s not what my proposed amendment is seeking.
Rather, it is taking the selection out of the hands of the self-interested team and some motivated Ramsey County politicians. It allows for a full discussion of where a stadium would best be located and how much it will cost.
A lot of work to do
Fact is, much needs to shake out for this site selection/deal selection process to work.
The Twin Cities business community needs to step forward and clearly declare its preferred site. The big hitters in town are going to buy the suites and naming rights and sponsorships. They should speak up now, or forever regret their timidity.
The construction unions win wherever the stadium goes. But let’s hear their preference, if any.
As for development at Arden Hills, what do the Wilfs really have in mind? When he was asked about that at the news conference unveiling the Ramsey County plan, Zygi Wilf said: “We primarily focused on the stadium, the parking. Whatever ancillary development will take place will take place down the road.”
But, a day later, when the term sheet was released, we learned the team retains the right to develop the surrounding TCAAP land for eight years.
The team also released a “site development plan” (PDF). Among the dreams on the sketches released by the team and Ramsey County earlier this month: a movie theater, restaurants, shops and a place for “overnight tailgating.” (Imagine that.)
But earlier this week, Burl Gilyard at Finance & Commerce quoted local real estate experts who questioned whether the site is truly ripe for development. And they wondered about the environmental issues on a former ammunitions manufacturing site.
What is the NFL willing to do? Commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this week the league would contribute, but, in the end, it appears it might only be through a waiver of some luxury suite revenues that the team could retain. That’s nothing new.
Has anyone fully explored or attempted to mediate the intriguing possibility raised in the proposal brought forth by the city of Minneapolis?
In that clause, multiple governmental units could impose local taxes. If governments besides Minneapolis get involved, they would “retain 80% of the revenue that the new taxes generate for publicly-owned facilities of regional or statewide significance.”
Could St. Paul and Minneapolis work together? Fund a Vikings stadium, a Saints baseball park and reduce debt on the cities’ arenas, Target Center and Xcel Energy Center.
(A St. Paul-Minneapolis partnership — just like those Twins mascots “Minnie” and “Paul” shaking hands across the river — is the most intriguing to me. It would be an urban coalition to fend off suburban stadium sprawl, but that’s just one man’s opinion.)
Could St. Paul and Ramsey County work together? Fund a Vikings stadium in the ‘burbs and deal with the city’s needs?
Could Minneapolis (namely, Mayor R.T. Rybak) and Hennepin (namely, Board Chairman Mike Opat) work together? That could bring back the prospect of placing a Vikings stadium at the Farmers Market site, one that has much support and potential, but oodles of land acquisition hurdles.
DFL Senate leader Tom Bakk said Wednesday that passage of a stadium bill this session “seems unlikely.” But, he added, “This issue is important enough to Minnesota that I think we would want the dialogue to keep going.”
The Vikings have waited a decade for this. They can wait three more months. Do the Wilfs and their lobbyists, do the Ramsey County boosters, does the governor, really want to be affiliated with a process that feels to the public as if it’s been jammed down their throats and incompletely vetted?
Maybe Arden Hills is the right place. If it’s the right place now, it will be the right place once the state budget is resolved and an unbiased panel of experts weighs all the options.
It’s one sure way out to keep the Vikings stadium issue alive and transparent while everything else around it crumbles.
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.