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