Gov. Mark Dayton is getting a tooth pulled Friday.
Bad as that is, it can’t be nearly as painful as trying to pull together a deal to build a football stadium:
- Dayton has to deal with legislators who really don’t want to get caught in the public furor over the stadium.
- He has to deal with a public that doesn’t want to spend a nickel to help multimillion-dollar Vikings players and owners but doesn’t want to lose the team, either.
- And he has to deal with the smugness of National Football League owners.
Vikings mum on stadium developments
That smugness was on display Wednesday, a day when various stadium players met with Dayton.
Zygi Wilf, the Vikings’ owner who is seeking about $650 million in public money, came zipping out of his meeting with the governor in the early afternoon.
Exiting the governor’s office, he took a sharp right to avoid waiting reporters.
Lester Bagley, Wilf’s face at the Capitol, acted as a pulling guard in front of Wilf.
Bagley stopped briefly to address reporters.
“Mr. Wilf is not going to have any comment today,” Bagley said. “We’ll catch up with you guys.”
Then, Bagley hustled to catch up with his fast-moving boss.
It was, at best, a strange public relations move. If you’re asking for state money, it might be a good idea to at least step in front of the television cameras and say hello to the faithful fans.
After Wilf’s hasty departure, the governor was asked if he’d said something that might have upset the owner.
“They didn’t leave my office angry,” Dayton said of Vikings executives. “I don’t know what happened with you guys.”
(A digression here: One of the questions Wilf didn’t stick around to answer was a fashion question. He entered the governor’s office with only the top button of his three-button suit fastened. That left his tie and white shirt protruding from his suit jacket in a most unusual way. Is this a new style statement from Wilf’s New Jersey home? Are old rules about how to properly button a three-button suit jacket kaput? The rule went: top two buttons sometimes; middle button always; bottom button never.)
Zygi’s dash — he moves quicker than Donovan McNabb — wasn’t the only brash move by a pro football executive in what Dayton has declared “Vikings week.”
‘NFL limo’ unusual P.R. tactic
On Tuesday, a couple of executives from the National Football League office came to the state Capitol to meet with the governor.
They arrived in a limo.
Again, strange public relations.
You’re coming to seek public money at a time when public money is precious. Perhaps, it might be wise to arrive in a cab, or a bland Chevy.
But that’s not the way the NFL operates. This is a league filled with people who believe they deserve to be a high public priority.
The league officials were in town to threaten, in a very professional way. If the Minnesota Legislature doesn’t come up with the cash for a new stadium, the league wants to leave the impression that the team will have no other choice but to leave for greener pastures.
Eric Grubman, a league vice president, is very good at issuing the threats in a cool, professional way.
He appeared on a sports talk radio station Wednesday morning to raise fear levels among the faithful that the state could lose the team.
“There’s not a lot of time,” Grubman told the sports talkers. “We run the risk of stalemate. … A lot rides on this special session. … Other people [cities] might invite themselves to the party.”
His message certainly was believed by the hosts of the program. After Grubman left the air, the sports talkers said it was pretty darn clear Minnesotans better come up with the money or the team’s headed to Los Angeles.
Problem is, of course, most of us have heard it all before. The Twins, you’ll recall, were going to move to North Carolina and then they were going to be retracted. But in the end, they stayed and, in time, got their new ballpark, which most seem happy with.
Shouldn’t Minnesotans be pretty skeptical about these threats that the team will move if the money isn’t forthcoming in a special session?
Governor pressing hard for a deal
Dayton doesn’t seem to think so.
“The clock is ticking,” he said.
Yes, all of this may be a gigantic bluff. But he reminded reporters that the region lost both the Lakers and the North Stars before facilities were built to attract new franchises.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Dayton said of why it’s important for the state to move now.
The governor is backing his words with actions.
He’s set a timeline with a late-November special session as the endpoint.
Toward that end, Dayton said he will meet again next Monday with legislative leaders. He expects the Republican leaders, with support of DFLers, to have some sort of stadium plan on his desk by the end of next week. Then, he said, after hearing from all parties, he will also come up with a plan of his own.
But most political insiders, including longtime state Capitol reporters, wonder how in the world the governor can come up with any sort of funding plan that has a chance of passing these legislators.
The majority leaders — House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch — are dealing with caucuses made up of large groups of “no new taxes” members. Many DFL liberals, on the other hand, can’t stand the notion of giving public money to millionaires.
On Friday, a handful of legislators are expected to try to solve the problem by announcing a plan to simply give the Metrodome to the Vikings.
One problem with that plan: The Vikings don’t want the Dome.
They want a new stadium — and they want it in Arden Hills.
Dayton siding — for now at least — on Arden Hills site
Dayton made it clear that the only thing resembling a plan involves the Ramsey County location, though he still seemed of two minds on that subject.
What’s good about Arden Hills?
The old munitions plant site “offers a tremendous economic opportunity for Ramsey County and the state,” Dayton said. “It would turn a blighted area into a vital development area.”
He said the Vikings have not made it clear just what might be included on the site, besides a stadium. But he believes that everything from residential to commercial possibilities exist. Any development, he said, would mean jobs, especially construction jobs.
Legislators, Dayton said, could place some restrictions on what might be built on the site, a reference to fears by St. Paul and Minneapolis that the Vikings might build a competing convention center.
“Rather than be paranoid about what might happen,” Dayton said, “let’s think about what could happen.”
There’s another key reason that the governor might support Arden Hills: It’s the only site the Vikings claim they favor.
That doesn’t mean the football team “dictates” the site, Dayton said, but they are one-third partners, along with the state and “the local partner.”
What of Minneapolis?
Dayton said Minneapolis wasn’t discussed with Wilf on Wednesday but did allow that “Minneapolis is better than Los Angeles.”
There are many players — still on the sidelines in this deal — who seem to think that Minneapolis will be the ultimate destination of the Vikings.
Curiously, among the meetings Dayton held Wednesday was one with Bob Lux, the owner of the Block E complex.
Lux wants to turn the failed complex into a downtown casino, which he insists could generate $100 million a year for the state.
But both Lux and the governor said the football stadium was not a part of their discussion.
Instead, Dayton said he wanted to hear directly from the developer about what a downtown casino could mean.
Gambling seems back in discussions
The discussion possibly indicates that Dayton sees gambling — either at the downtown casino or casino-style gambling allowed at the metro’s two racetracks — as a way to fund the state’s portion of a football stadium.
“I want all cards face up on the table,” the governor said of why he was meeting with Lux.
There is much to be determined in the coming days.
Dayton said he made it made it clear to the Vikings that the team would be responsible for any cost overruns on the project and that once a deal is agreed to, there is no backing out.
There also would be substantial issues about management of a new stadium when it’s not being used by the football team.
Oh yes, and there’s the toughest job of all: “We need a bipartisan solution to get this accomplished,” Dayton said.
Getting that tooth pulled should be painless by comparison.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.