Experienced onlookers at the edges of the long-running Vikings stadium debate believe there’s not going to be an end any time soon.
Yes, there is to be the first of a couple of public hearings Wednesday on a Ramsey County charter amendment to counter the proposed stadium financing plan.
Yes, a report by the Met Council and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission on the viability of the Arden Hills location is due in a couple of weeks.
And yes, the Vikings claim they have no Plan B if the Arden Hills proposal won’t fly.
But such veterans of stadium wars as Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein, Sports Facilities Commissioner Paul Thatcher and Twins executive Jerry Bell predict that nothing will happen in the next legislative session.
Stadium ‘veterans’ discount the Vikings leaving
When the dust settles, there seems to be a general feeling that the Vikings will get a new stadium but that it likely will end up on the Farmers’ Market site at the edge of downtown Minneapolis near Target Field.
They also discount any implied threat that the team might leave if a new stadium isn’t been approved in the next few months.
“To their everlasting credit, they have never said they are leaving if a deal isn’t done,” said Thatcher. “But there’s this implication that the moving vans are parked just down the block from the Metrodome because their lease is up [at the end of the current season].”
Why wouldn’t the team go, particularly with a lucrative market such as Los Angeles just waiting?
Thatcher ticks off the reasons:
• Three-fourths of the teams in the league must sign off on any move, a difficult number to achieve, especially given that franchises such as Jacksonville, Buffalo, St. Louis and even San Diego are considered less viable markets than Minnesota.
• The dome’s lease automatically extends itself and the Vikings likely would face a court battle to get out of town.
• Any team that moves into the L.A. market must pay a substantial “relocation fee” to the league. That fee would likely be in excess of more than $200 million.
Thatcher, Stenglein and Bell don’t claim to have any inside knowledge of the Vikings’ plans.
In fact, Bell, who patiently dealt with pols for a decade before getting the Twins’ deal done, hasn’t been on the Vikings’ list of favorite people since 2006, the year the Twins/Hennepin County arrangement squeaked through the Legislature.
“They tried desperately to get on our bill,” said Bell. “I rejected that idea as strong as I could with everybody I could. If they had been our bill, we both would have been taken down.”
Different dynamics between efforts by Twins, Vikes
The Vikings haven’t been soliciting advice from Bell ever since — a loss to the team, given that few in the state understand how the system works better than Bell.
“You have to have a relationship of trust with legislators on both sides,” Bell said. “It’s the only way you can get things done.”
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, has taken on the difficult task of trying to come up with stadium legislation.
He noted that though the Vikings’ Lester Bagley has been the Vikings’ representative at the Capitol for years, he doesn’t have the advantage that Bell had.
“We knew it was a trusted friend and adviser to [the late Twins owner] Carl Pohlad,” Lanning said of Bell. “We knew when we were dealing with Jerry, it was the same as dealing with Pohlad. The current situation is different. We don’t know the Wilfs [the Vikings’ New Jersey-based owners].”
The Vikings have a number of political problems.
Beyond the Ramsey County commissioners who cooked up the Arden Hills deal with the Vikings, the Arden Hills plan seems to have the support of very few leaders in the county. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and the St. Paul City Council are on record opposing a plan that calls for county residents to pay a 0.5 percent sales tax that would raise about $350 million, the county’s share of the proposed $1.1 billion stadium. (That’s more than three times higher than the 0.15 per cent Hennepin County sales tax used to fund the public portion of the $522 million baseball stadium.)
Additionally, Republican legislative leaders — House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch — recently surprised Lanning by announcing during the State Fair that they support a referendum on any sales tax increase in Ramsey County. That would be a deal breaker, most agree.
Lanning said he’s always believed that Ramsey County should be treated the same as Hennepin County, meaning its officials should have the final say on a referendum.
It remains to be seen whether Zellers and Koch will back away from their politically popular but deal-killing proposal for a referendum.
The Arden Hills plan also calls for the state to come up with $300 million in funding.
“Can you imagine this Legislature paying as much as $1 into this?” asked Stenglein.
Remember, the state paid nothing for Target Field, and legislation required to give Hennepin County authority to levy a sales tax without a referendum passed in the Senate by just two votes.
Arden Hills site faces lots of skepticism
The tax issues are only a part of the problem for the Arden Hills site.
Although Gov. Mark Dayton is a supporter of a publicly subsidized “people’s stadium,” he always has been tepid about the Arden Hills location.
Stenglein and Bell suggest that the business community isn’t excited about Arden Hills, either.
“How do you think the people at Rosedale [shopping mall] feel about (Vikings owner] Zygi [Wilf] getting all that land to develop?” Stenglein said. “Do you think Rosedale wants to end up looking like Brookdale?”
By profession, Wilf is a developer. The Vikings haven’t been clear about how they would develop the land around the stadium, but a shopping complex is a probability.
Bell said that businesses — crucial to purchasing the luxury boxes that make these new stadiums so profitable for the teams — likely would prefer a downtown Minneapolis location.
Stenglein and Bell do differ on the amount of clout businesses play in the stadium game.
Stenglein says that before the dust settles and a stadium deal is done, “big business is going to have to step to the table.” By that, he means corporations need to come up with some money.
Bell says that won’t happen: The big business crowd may buy luxury suites, but the days of backing boosterism with cash are over.
“When we had family-owned businesses, they would step forward,” said Bell of business leaders of a different generation. “CEOs aren’t going to go out on limbs.”
There’s one big factor that would make the move to the Farmers’ Market site, or any other site in downtown Minneapolis, problematic, according to Lanning.
“The Vikings have to be willing,” he said.
Although Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat was the lead player on getting the Twins’ stadium deal done, Stenglein also played a major role.
Despite his belief that the Vikings are a statewide asset that should have the state as a public financial partner, Stenglein suspects that in the end, Hennepin County will again have to step into the breach.
Stenglein floats ‘the big idea’
But he doesn’t think that will happen until 2013. But he hopes that a Vikings’ stadium would be part of what he calls “the big idea.” It goes like this:
• The Vikings stadium is built on the Farmers’ Market site. That would mean that Mary Jo Copeland’s center for the poor, Sharing and Caring Hands, would be surrounded by the football stadium and the baseball park.
All that exposure, Stenglein said, is actually a good thing for Copeland.
“I like the idea of all the richest kids in the world playing in the same area where our poorest kids are,” Stenglein said.
• The Metrodome would be razed. “Grind it into dust and build the University of Minnesota Medical School on the location.” This would solve all sorts of problems, according to Stenglein. As it is, the med school is spread out in a number of locations. This would create, one up-to-date center, accessible for people all over the state. The facility, he said, would “tear down the walls between Minneapolis and the University.”
Most importantly, he said, this medical facility could become the center for caring for the indigent, currently a huge, costly expense for the Hennepin County Medical Center.
• Energy from the garbage burner used to heat the Vikings’ stadium and anything else in the neighborhood.
It’s all there to be had, said Stenglein.
“But the thing you have to understand about this process is you’ve got a lot of people saying ‘no’ before you get to ‘yes,’ ” he said.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.