The Vikings stadium roller coaster is set to swing up and down today, with queasy stomachs sure to result.
It’s so fluid, that by the time you read this, things might have gone into a loop-de-loop and already changed in this fast-moving Vikings ride.
But this is what we think we know as of Monday morning …
• There’s a news conference on tap.
The city of Minneapolis is planning a news conference for this afternoon to announce a Vikings stadium plan.
Curiously — and significantly — as of late Sunday night, Vikings officials said they weren’t going to be represented at the session.
This suggests the team isn’t yet on board with the city plan. The team wants to be in Arden Hills. And, we’re hearing, they want to be in Arden Hills really bad. ZygiWorld is their vision.
As we’ve been saying at MinnPost for the past week, the city of Minneapolis’ share of any stadium plan would include some of the taxes that now go to pay down Minneapolis Convention Center debt. Those are state-authorized liquor and lodging taxes. Apparently, other taxes will be in the mix, too.
Two sources have told us that a Target Center renovation piece is part of the Minneapolis proposal, too. Jeff Goldberg of Fox 9 News first reported a similar plan outline last night, and the Star Tribune jumped on board early this morning.
• TheArden Hills plan is very much alive.
Apparently, the team has grand visions of development on the large site north of St. Paul.
But the roads and infrastructure issues that have dogged any plan to build on the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) site continue to loom large in any final, responsible plan.
In an email to MinnPost last week and in other media reports, Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett insisted the cost to stadium-linked highway construction would be “only” in the $100 million range, down from previous estimates of at least $200 million. Now we’re hearing Bennett thinks the cost could be as low as $80 million.
“Keep your pencil sharp,” Bennett told us. “Watch a huge drop in road dollars.”
It’s Bennett’s argument that, stadium aside, roads in around the site north of I-35W and I-694 need improvements anyway. And he points to state subsidies to, for example, the Mall of America as precedent.
But that’s exactly the problem. There is continuing concern among state officials about these road costs. Roads can’t be built just for a stadium, just as they couldn’t only be built for the mall. The roads need to make sense for daily use and must fit into an overall Department of Transportation plan.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s stadium point person is Ted Mondale, former chair of the Metropolitan Council, an agency with deep interest in transit and roads, and which also weighs in on the “metropolitan significance” of such large public construction projects.
In January, new Met Council Chair Sue Haigh was interviewed by MinnPost’s Steve Berg, and here’s a telling exchange. Haigh, remember, was once a member of the Ramsey County Board.
Berg: “There may or may not be a Vikings stadium in the immediate future. Technically, the council has the authority to intervene on the location of any major project it deems to be of “metropolitan significance.” I think the last time that happened — perhaps the only time — was in the building of the Mall of America. The reason for intervention would be to assure that a major facility is connected to metro infrastructure. In the case of stadiums, the Twins have demonstrated how a ballpark and transit can work together to handle big crowds. What’s your view on stadium location and transportation?”
Haigh: “My sense is that wherever a new stadium might be located, it should maximize the current transportation investment because that’s the way it can be most cost-effective. It has to be that way. [emphasis added] But the governor has not signaled in any way whether he thinks this would be a decision of metropolitan significance or whether the council would play a role in that.”
Not yet. There could — and should — be some Met Council analysis of the Arden Hills site. A call for that need not come from the governor. Any citizen can seek such a review. We’re betting at least one citizen opposed to any far-reaching Arden Hills site will seek that Met Council review.
• Roads aren’t just a metro concern.
Improving highways is not something that goes on willy-nilly in the state. Lawmakers wait in line for years for trunk highway improvements in their districts.
One rural legislator said over the weekend that any jumping ahead in line for road funding for a stadium would cause a major uproar among Greater Minnesota legislators. It’s like getting your number at a deli or bakery — say ticket No. 5 — and the person with No. 25 gets served first because they’re taller or shout louder. Just like in the deli, that jump ahead in line would cause a stir in the Legislature.
• Did we mention votes?
Even if there is one plan in place soon, there’s still the matter of votes, at the city council level in Minneapolis and at the state level in the Legislature.
Whatever the Minneapolis plan looks like, Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barb Johnson are going to have to deliver enough votes to get this past their City Council and a citizenry that will likely explode in opposition.
It looks as if Bennett has votes from his Ramsey County Board comrades.
As for the state … of course, once Gov. Dayton points to a plan that he can live with, that will be very important.
But any vote for a Vikings stadium is going to have to be bipartisan. The DFL is not going to carry this, not while it’s been complaining that the Republicans are spending too much time on other social issues. And not while the Republicans control both chambers.
Every caucus will have to deliver votes on this project in an atmosphere that has been very party-line disciplined.
Republicans are sure to look carefully at whether there are any “new taxes” in any stadium plan. They’re fighting new taxes on all fronts, but will they bend for pro football? Or will most taxes — as in Minneapolis’ case — be previously authorized taxes for a new purpose?
Is a sales tax on sports clothing and souvenirs a “new tax”? Is a new Ramsey County sales tax for a stadium a “new tax,” even if approved by the county board?
From the left will come another point of view. A longtime critic of public funding for stadiums, Sen. John Marty, whose district is adjacent to Arden Hills, recently sent an opinion piece to supporters, saying: “No politician will admit that they consider funding a Vikings stadium a top priority. But for some, it seems to rate higher than education, health care, or other needs. 37 out of 37 Republican state senators — every one of them — sent a letter to Governor Dayton earlier this year, strongly opposing any new taxes or revenues. They made their position clear — no taxes for schools or for health care. No taxes for roads and bridges, or for public safety, or for the environment. No new taxes for anything.
“However, some of those Republican senators are making an exception. They recently introduced legislation to raise taxes to subsidize a new Vikings stadium. The one thing for which they are willing to raise taxes is a taxpayer-subsidized stadium?”
He then took on his DFL colleagues:
“Some DFL politicians support a stadium subsidy because it will create jobs in the hard-hit construction industry. We urgently need more construction jobs, but we could do so by addressing the enormous backlog of public infrastructure needs. For example, within a few miles of the Metrodome, there are schools that were built in the 1930s and ’40s that haven’t been updated in decades.”
The contours of the legislative debate are being constructed.
• St. Paul, what sayeth you?
Perhaps the most significant development over the weekend for the Arden Hills site came in a Star Tribune report that included the view of veteran and respected St. Paul Rep. Alice Hausman.
Hausman was quoted as saying about Bennett and other Ramsey County commissioners, “This small group of people, against the best interests of everyone who lives in Ramsey County,” was backing the stadium plan.
A spokesman for Mayor Chris Coleman told the Star Tribune the mayor hadn’t been briefed on any Ramsey County stadium plan.
Really? With as much as about half of county sales taxes generated within the city of St. Paul, city support for a countywide effort seems necessary.
If the Vikings’ vision is that of another Mall of America sort of Wilf-o-Rama in Arden Hills, won’t that negatively affect downtown St. Paul, which already needs all the help it can get?
Is a Ramsey County mega-development good for St. Paul?
• A city vs. suburbs scenario still exists.
Fascinating tension, and long-standing.
A decade ago, when I was writing about the history of the development of the Metrodome, I asked Ken Dayton, Gov. Dayton’s uncle, about why it was important to put the region’s new multipurpose stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
After all, it was the Dayton family with its department stores that drove the construction of suburban malls that, some could argue, threatened the economic health of both downtowns.
Dayton, then the chairman of the Dayton Hudson Corp., was known more for his behind-the-scenes charitable giving and civic involvement than his outspoken nature. It was a rare interview he gave.
When I asked about putting a stadium downtown instead of in the suburbs, he looked at me as if I were speaking Serbo-Croatian.
He talked about museums and orchestra halls and stadiums and said, “Anything that you have one of should be downtown.”
Downtown is the cultural center of gravity for any metro area. Not surprisingly, I heard this weekend that the business leaders who were until recently backing a Farmers Market/North Loop site in downtown Minneapolis have shifted their support to the Dome site. Twin Cities business interests don’t hang out in Arden Hills.
• Will there be a global solution?
As Channel 9’s Goldberg reported and MinnPost heard Sunday, there is a Target Center renovation piece to this Vikings plan. At some point, the dots will also connect to the Block E casino plan. That’s also set to come forth this week. Target Center would be adjacent to any Block E renovation, the auditorium for the casino.
Are we moving into the realm of the “global solution” that we’ve written about and that the NBA Timberwolves and even Mayor Rybak have been touting? It seems a little bit late in this game to be raising such a mega-notion. But it also raises the possibility of a very-strange-bedfellows deal that seems to be swirling: a Minneapolis-St. Paul marriage.
Might the two core cities band together? A Target Center fix-up, a St. Paul Saints stadium, a debt-reduction arrangement for St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, and a Vikings stadium … all in the downtowns?
Or is that a strange dream?
• Does the team get to pick?
Even if the Vikings’ stake is now reaching towards $400 million or more in a $900 million to $1 billion Arden Hills project, does it get to pick where a stadium goes, one that will get $500 million in public funding and that’s supposed to be a “statewide asset” and a “people’s stadium”? One that requires massive road improvements and other public infrastructure contributions?
History shows the Twins didn’t get to pick their site for Target Field; a citizens group identified the current site.
Back in 1977, the Vikings didn’t get to pick their site, which became the Dome. Team leaders preferred to stay in Bloomington and were beaten up by downtown business interests to come to the Dome site.
In recent history, the Wild site was already the St. Paul Civic Center. The site was simply recycled.
Yes, Target Center for the NBA was picked by the team owners — but they paid for the whole enchilada … until their reach extended their grasp and resources, and they had to be bailed out. Not a pleasant scenario to remember.
So, put on your seat belt and strap on your helmet. The roller coaster ride is under way.
More this afternoon from the planned Minneapolis news conference and then tonight, when the Arden Hills City Council meets at 7 p.m.
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.
MinnPost Asks Live Interview Series
Join us on Monday, May 16, as MinnPost journalist Jay Weiner interviews Sports Facilities Commission chair Ted Mondale to discuss issues surrounding a new Vikings stadium. Click here for details and ticket information.