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St. Paul Mayor Coleman offers 'intergalactic' plan to solve Vikings stadium issue, and lots more

In this 2011 season of "How the Stadium Turns," we have seen a gaggle of publicly aided Vikings plans.

Mayor Chris Coleman
Mayor Chris Coleman

There was (and is) The Specific Plan: Vikings in Arden Hills with a Ramsey County sales tax and some new "user fee" taxes imposed by the state, such as a sales tax on all pro sports apparel.

There remains (although somewhat forgotten) The Minneapolis "Global" Plan: Vikes stadium in the state's largest city on the existing Metrodome site, with expanded citywide drinking and hotel taxes funding the football facility. AND a $155 million renovation of Target Center arena, which is also in downtown Minneapolis.

City officials and the NBA Timberwolves call it a "global solution," but their world is all in Minneapolis.

Big plan, huge hurdles

Today, we saw The Big Honking Intergalactic Plan, offered by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and it's worth a serious look, even if it will face huge hurdles.

As the Vikings stadium effort in the Ramsey County suburbs takes a hiatus with the Legislature, Coleman presented the largest, most regional, most statewide and most forward-looking plan of all, where pain and gain are seemingly shared.

What's more, the people who would pay for pro sports facilities are the beer drinkers and martini-guzzlers from Ada to Zumbrota, from all 87 counties for a facility that everyone says is a "statewide asset."

The basics of Mayor Coleman's plan are simple. Navigating to his goal will be difficult.

But, as we've written here before, thinking long-term and regionally while funding stadiums and arenas statewide is the only way to go to stop this endless cycle of stadium and arena debates that, one could argue, have been non-stop since Metropolitan Stadium opened in 1954.

Over time, it is the state's general fund that has benefited the most from pro sports — and will continue to do so — not any so-called host community.

"How do we stabilize these facilities, how do we go forward from here?" Coleman asked today.

And why not? In its current finance configuration, the Vikings plan now being discussed by the team and two Ramsey County commissioners would be paid for mostly by St. Paul citizens, who make up 56 percent of all Ramsey County citizens. But, in the current plan, the city gets nothing in return.

The basics
So, there's The Coleman Plan:

• Vikings stay in Minneapolis, no site established.

• Take away the Target Center debt, which is in excess of $60 million, but, essentially, implode the place and move the NBA Timberwolves to St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center. Put something else in the Target Center space, the St. Paul mayor says.

Meanwhile, in the small-potatoes portion of the plan:

• Raise cash for a statewide amateur sports fund, fix Xcel Energy Center and add a practice facility for the NHL Wild and Wolves.

• Build a new minor-league and community baseball park for the St. Paul Saints and others.

• Fund parks and libraries in St. Paul to the tune of $3 million annually.

While you're gulping that down, consider this:

Statewide funding for statewide asset
Using what he acknowledged were some broad finance numbers, that whole shebang of about $740 million in costs would be largely funded by a "2-penny-a-drink" statewide tax.

Four beers, hand over 8 cents. Six-pack in a store, 12 cents to a Vikings stadium. A mixed drink at a fancy hotel, you'd pay your 2 cents worth.

Mayor Coleman's plan would involve moving the Timberwolves to St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.
MinnPost photo by Raoul Benavides
Mayor Coleman's plan would involve moving the Timberwolves to St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.

There are other taxes in there (including a quarter-cent city sales tax) for some St. Paul-centric benefits — such as the library piece — but the Vikings stadium, with a price tag of $950 million, could be supported wholly by the Booze Tax and private money from the team owners, Coleman said.

"Whether in Mankato, Minnetonka or Mountain Iron, Vikings fans are eating wings and drinking beer while watching their favorite team. Such a statewide asset deserves a statewide commitment," he said poetically in a formal statement.

Now, the math is important. Very important. Coleman says the 2-penny-a-drink tax can raise $48 million a year, and, bonding experts aside, he figures that Minnesotans aren't going to stop downing cold beverages for a two-cent tax. Steady revenue, he said. The numbers require further study, of course.

Here are the details (PDF) as provided today by the mayor's office.

Lots to ponder
But the mayor, in a briefing with journalists, made some fundamental qualitative and political declarations worth pondering as the Vikings debate morphs into a new phase this summer.

• On the Arden Hills site: The mayor says he's not opposed to the site but then goes on to explain why it's got its problems and why he doesn't like it and why the issue has to be addressed more regionally and why the stadium should be in Minneapolis. … Well, he SAYS he's not opposed.

The deal between the team and Ramsey County Commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega has problems, he said. Environmental cleanup at the former ammunitions plans is an issue, he said. The $131 million in road costs is a hurdle.

There's a funding fairness issue, too. He says it's not fair for one county to carry the burden.

A St. Paul family goes to a Wild game in St. Paul. She eats out. He shops at a store. The kids buy a Wild jersey. Those fans pay taxes on every transaction but may never go to a Vikings game, even though the county sales tax and state memorabilia tax will go to pay for a Vikings stadium in the 'burbs.

That's a user fee?

"What is the benefit [for St. Paul]," the mayor of St. Paul asked, in stating his plan after weeks of everyone waiting for him to weigh in. A stadium in Arden Hills would be closer to downtown Minneapolis than to downtown St. Paul, he says, and could benefit Anoka County's Blaine more than St. Paul, he says.

And he also mentioned all of the public transit infrastructure in place in Minneapolis and St. Paul that lead to stadiums. None of that is in Arden Hills.

If and when this tax comes before the county board and the Legislature, do you think DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will listen carefully to the DFL mayor of the capital city?

• On the Target Center and Xcel Energy Center arena wars, Coleman notes that the Twin Cities area "is the smallest market trying to support two facilities." (PDF)  

And adds of Target Center renovation plans: "Why would you put $150 million into a facility that is superfluous? The competition is not sustainable."

The latter point is absolutely true. Even the Wolves and Minneapolis city officials acknowledge that.

What's a region to do?

Coleman's solution would consolidate the Wild and Wolves and concerts and families shows in one venue: Kiss Target Center goodbye.

A worthy discussion but lots of complexities, such as leases and the impact on the nearby Warehouse district in Minneapolis.

(This afternoon, the Wild owners, who control the Xcel Energy Center management, praised the mayor's idea. But, of course. No quick reaction from the Wolves.)

• As for a rare Minneapolis-St. Paul marriage on facilities, Coleman said: "This is the classic bacon-and-eggs breakfast. Minneapolis is the chicken. St. Paul is the pig. They both give up something, but some give up more than others" to provide the breakfast.

Sounds unhealthy.

The mayor said he touched base with all key players in the debate — from Gov. Mark Dayton to stadium sponsor Sen. Julie Rosen to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, and no one said, "No." But, he acknowledged, he didn't get a chance to speak with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. And the Vikings are committed to Arden Hills.

Is it doable? Is it too big? Is it too little too late to figure out a logical, complete solution? Does it de facto trip up a Vikings' effort? Can everyone give a little to get the big solution every key public official knows is necessary?

Who knows? Coleman thinks the Vikings stadium effort is stalled now, with oodles of hurdles.

He says his plan is "a clear point on the horizon to sail to."

When you're thinking intergalactically, when you're thinking big picture, the horizon is always on your mind.

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 (10)

It absolutely makes sense for the Wild and Wolves to share a facility in a market of this size. It also makes sense for the Vikings to be in Minneapolis, where the infrastructure to support them already exists.

So like all things logical, this plan probably won't go anywhere.

I don't know what Warehouse District business owners would prefer - 10 Vikings crowds/year or 40 Wolves crowds/year, but I suspect it would be the Wolves crowds.

I don't know that either the Wolves or the Wild would be thrilled in giving up their primary tenant status in the respective buildings, but maybe they can be talked into it.

It is arguable that the Vikings even want to be downtown. Jerruh Jones spurned the City of Dallas in order to build his Taj Mahal in Arlington, away from mass transit, in order to control all parking revenues. And he makes a killing on them.

The outstaters will hate this plan - with some justification. In a non-economic sense, the sports teams are a statewide asset that (arguably) benefits all of the residents. But any economic benefits the teams provide will accrue to the metro, therefore, outstate people will cry foul. It might be more workable if the alcoholic beverage tax were a percentage of the cost, not a flat two cents. I'd suspect many more $10 martinis are sold in the metro and that would increase our share of it.

IN short, the vested interests would all have to give a little for this to happen. Not sure if that is possible.

Call this plan "TARP-2"-Taxpayers Aid to Rich Players.

About the same relative scheme and as complex as the original TARP that so richly rewarded the financial industry and their crappy decisions without addressing the fundamental concerns of those who ended up paying.

Have you no decency?

I love your work Mayor Coleman.. I think that you have the moxie to be Minnesota's Governor someday.. However that old munitions plant has been an eyesore since the end of the Korean War.. 50 Years plus is wayyyy too long to not do something with it.. Let's get the the Vikes there.. It would be great to expand light rail from University Going north on Snelling to Rosedale Mall and then to the new Vikes Stadium .. There are issues of restructuring the freeway .. So be it.. If we build it they will come..

It sounds like Mayor Coleman changed his idea from charging just 1 extra penny for all alcoholic beverages sold statewide to 2 cents over this past week. I think we could raise more than enough funds if we kept his original idea of a penny more for all alcoholic beverages, but also charge an extra penny on all tobacco products (check, cigs, snuff, cigars, etc.) sold statewide, and even an extra penny on all caffeinated beverages (coffee, pop, energy drinks, etc.) sold statewide. Just imagine what we could bring in then? All excess funds could go toward education, research, and health care.

Don't really like Mayor Coleman's idea of wanting to retire the Target Center so the Wolves and Lynx can play over in St. Paul. The Wild already share the X with the Swarm. Not matter what many people say about using the existing Metrodome site for the new Vikings stadium as the best logical option, the Vikings will never agree to this because it means they will have to play at TCF Bank Stadium for at least 3 years while the new stadium is being built. So they will lose big time revenue during that time of waiting for the stadium to be built.

No, Mayor Coleman, *you* pay for *your* stadium for an affluent sports team owner with *your* county sales tax. I'm already paying for a "statewide asset" here in Minneapolis.

Billionaire sports team owners are, at least in Minnesota, the biggest welfare recipients around. And the rest of us will be taxed so these private business can make money. The stench of corruption from the Twins, the Vikings and the legislature wants to make you vomit.

What was that I hear? We have no money to run this state? feh.

While only alcohol? Chip in 2 cents from colas, sodas, sports drinks and all that other non-nutritious and plastic-wasting slop. A small amount of beer and wine is probably better for you than that other stuff put together.

where will it end? 2 cents for a stadium; a penny for this, a penny for that. once you turn on the faucet, drip, drip drip....

I think you have to get to some level of reality about what is doable now and combine it with a sustainable vision for the future. Mayor Coleman's ideas may or may not prove to be doable, but at least he's trying to make some sense of the whole thing from a long-range point of view.

These teams are state assets, just as much as a state park and as such should be supported state-wide. Are we really to the point where we only support the things we use as individuals? I've never been to Itasca State Park so I don't want to fund it? There is a collective good that is determined by our elected officials. If there's some % instead of flat fee that makes sense, that's fine, but this state, like it or not, needs its big cities to be healthy, attractive and financially solvent. Without them we are North Dakota without the oil.

So far what we have is a city, Minneapolis, that is already burdened by taxes and can't pay for basic services shying away from imposing further financial hardships on their citizens by financing a stadium, and a county, Ramsey, that has come up with a scheme developed by two commissioners that has no support from anyone in the southern 3/4's of the county and allows the Wilfs, who don't live here and don't really care about the metro or state's longterm development, to make millions off an unnecessary Mall of America north that will further destroy our St. Paul businesses.

I'd say kudos to the Mayor for proposing something that is the first plan I've seen to take all of this into account. If you're looking for a starting point, this is closer than anything else I've seen.

Mr. Wilf has enough money to built his own damned stadium. Let him build it himself, or get lost.

To me, the biggest reason to reject the munitions site is that Mr. Wilf doesn't want just a stadium with a parking lot. He hopes to build a whole new town (or at least a large village) around the stadium with lots of residential, shopping and entertainment facilities.

The problem is that, while existing roadways might be enough to get people to the stadium, Wilf would want NEW and EXPANDED access via car, bus and light rail to get folks to his new city, plus fire and police protection, streets and sidewalks, street lights and signs, et cetera et cetera et cetera. Are Ramsey County and the city of Arden Hills ready to pay for all this just to help a kabillionaire advance to kazillinaire status?