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Dayton has lots of stadium problems to tackle to put together a Vikings deal

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is seeking about $650 million in public money for the new stadium.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is seeking about $650 million in public money for the new stadium.

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.”

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Gov. Mark Dayton

(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.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch are dealing with caucuses made up of large groups of "no new taxes" members.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch are dealing with caucuses made up of large groups of “no new taxes” members.

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.

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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 10/20/2011 - 10:03 am.

    Dayton is doing exactly what he should be doing — leading. Whether or not you favor the new stadium or any of the funding deals, he is bringing people together, talking and looking for a solution. Dayton has done more leadership in the last week that the entire Repbulican so-called legislative leaders have in a decade.

  2. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 10/20/2011 - 10:21 am.

    I think you’ve got the analogy backwards. It is the tax payer who is getting a tooth pulled, a tooth he doesn’t want pulled and an extraction his dental insurance doesn’t cover. Dayton couldn’t play poker with the legislature and he sure can’t with the NFL This is where he is at his spineless worst. I liked the commenter earlier in the week who said let the Dayton family be the local partner. I think that ultimately the phony tea party types who are funded by billionaires will find a way to cave and give this billionaire what he wants. No new taxes (NNT) is just a smoke screen for give billionaires more (GBM).

  3. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 10/20/2011 - 10:26 am.

    Jeremy, Dayton is leading in the same way a yappy lap dog tugs on its owners chain as they walk toward home. The NFL owns Dayton. Leadership would be saying this isn’t the problem of the Minnesota tax payer and the NFL needs to figure it out.

  4. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 10/20/2011 - 10:51 am.

    Lets face it we are going to lose the Vikings. With Kurt, I don’t talk to the voters, Zellers, and Amy, I don’t co-operate with anybody, Koch, running the show, we have two people who know absolutely nothing about business and are only worried about being re-elected as our only chance for a stadium. What a big fat chance that is. Hello L.A.

  5. Submitted by Reid Parkinson on 10/20/2011 - 11:06 am.

    Why do we have to have a new stadium when the old one isn’t even paid for yet? I live downtown and when I eat out, I have to pay almost 9% in tax. If there is any entertainment, almost 15%, partly because of sports assessments. And these bozos want me to fund another stadium? Perhaps they should read a book, go to a movie or watch a game on TV. Or…here’s a novel idea…pay their way.

  6. Submitted by John Edwards on 10/20/2011 - 11:09 am.

    Having a reporter criticize your sartorial appearance is comparable to Richard Simmons impugning your virility. Zygi will be devastated after reading Grow’s comment.

  7. Submitted by Richard Pecar on 10/20/2011 - 11:40 am.

    I am no fan of House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. I was once a fan of Governor Mark Dayton, but even that is gone after the last legislative session.

    I am a fan of the Minnesota Vikings.

    However, if the Viking and some their fans want to build a new stadium, they should pay for it.

    Why? One reason is I can’t afford to participate in paying for it, not a penny at a time or by buying a seat. All I can afford is watching games on TV.

    Actually, no one I know can afford to pay for the thing. All my friends and I went to ball games as kids. Our dad’s took us. My dad was a carpenter. We never thought about the price of a ticket.

    Unfortunately, attending most professional sports in Minnesota (unlike New York or Boston) has become a rich person’s recreation…or a corporate perk.

    It seems that most legislative actions and that of the executive branches as well, state or federal, all favor the properous at the expense of the poor.

    Why doesn’t the state allow tax-free revenue bonds to help with construction costs but making sure the debt service and operating expenses are guaranteed by gate receipts and from sales of hats, sweat shirts and TV revenues. Any revenue shortfalls? Let the investors pony the shortfalls.

    Leave the taxpayer completely out of the deal.

    I’m sorry Vikings, you cost too much. It has been a pleasure to have you around.

    I can afford watching games on TV. That’s it.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/20/2011 - 12:05 pm.

    ….a handful of legislators are expected to try to solve the problem by announcing a plan to simply give the Metrodome to the Vikings…

    Perhaps they missed the fact that the Vikings use the stadium rent-free right now (why buy the cow when you get the milk for free…)

  9. Submitted by Fritz Dahmus on 10/20/2011 - 12:10 pm.

    So Doug Grow, from your paragraph heading ” ‘NFL limo’ unusual P.R. tactic “….you think the NFL should pretend it is poor? What would look good to you Mr. Grow?? Arriving in a Prius? Maybe a taxi cab? They’d get their money for sure then!!

    You are implying that the masses are so stupid we don’t realize they don’t need the money….but can get it because of the popularity of their sport….even though their threats are idle (according to you).

    Solid handle on the situation Mr. Grow.

    Jeremy, I’m guessing that even in your world, a republican has “led” a rich man to the public trough. But you’re right…nice leadership Guv.

  10. Submitted by Michael Morris on 10/20/2011 - 12:25 pm.

    Just listened to the Gov’s press conference and your summation is fair. What I still have not heard from anyone is why the Arden Hills sight is the only sight the Wilfs will consider. If it’s because it offers tailgating where the other options do not than I am of the camp that says “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”. To ask Minnesotans to subsidize a parking lot for eight dates a year is lunacy.

  11. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 10/20/2011 - 12:55 pm.

    Many of us don’t really care if the team leaves- most don’t go to games, and even fewer will if the new stadium does get built- since the “Team contribution” will quickly get passed on to fans via personal seat licenses. If they move, all the games will still be available via cable/satellite, so in the grand scheme of things, little will have changed. Here’s hoping our legislators don’t fold.

    And ps- Robert Kraft is still very very rich after funding 100% of the Patriots stadium. Their team is better than ours, too.

  12. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/20/2011 - 01:46 pm.

    Arden Hills is the preferred site because Wilf, a real estate developer, gets in on the ground floor of the Arden Hills real estate developments.

    With the stadium parking there he has two advantages–he gets as much revenue as he can charge for game day parking, plus, it provides parking for any other developments for the other 350 days in a year. There are damn few other parking options in that area.

  13. Submitted by craig furguson on 10/20/2011 - 02:11 pm.

    I’d be good with gambling downtown Minneapolis funding the stadium. Minneapolis can’t keep block E going to save their lives and I think it’s time to acknowledge that the downtown should be an adult destination, they are not going to compete with the malls. It’s on one end of the light rail from the airport and the mall of america, you’d probably draw outsiders. Put the stadium downtown, fire up gambling, give Minneapolis a cut and call it a day.

  14. Submitted by T J Simplot on 10/20/2011 - 02:26 pm.

    In my opinion it will be more politically dangerous to lose the Vikings on your watch than it would be to vote for public financing of the stadium.

  15. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 10/20/2011 - 06:49 pm.

    Any source of revenue that is not directly tied to the team and stadium is immaterial. That’s revenue that could just as well go to many other needs. It’s like selling your car to pay for a vacation when you already have credit card debt. You don’t claim that your vacation was free.

    Arden Hills is the best site because it allows the Wilfs to make boodles of money on developing land around the stadium with parking revenue as the icing on the cake. That’s a good thing, as it should incent the Wilf’s to contribute more than the approximately $300m I think they’re at (excluding the NFL contribution). I don’t think LA offers that possibility.

    It also offers a vehicle to clean up the site; which may offset (from a public benefit standpoint) the need to build more highways for the few times a year the stadium will be full.

    But we need to strike a much better deal and, if not accepted, be prepared for the Vikings to leave. There are lots of ways to spend the 2/3s being funded by state and county (as currently discussed) that will provide jobs and long term value.

    And lets require a longer term deal. A stadium should last longer than my garden shed.

  16. Submitted by Seth Rowe on 10/20/2011 - 10:47 pm.

    The priorities being espoused by stadium proponents are clear: football is more important than education. The state is actually borrowing $350 million per year from the school districts – many or most of which have had to in turn borrow money – and now is preparing, a few months later, to authorize spending approximately the same amount on a Vikings stadium. To say the Vikings should be considered a separate expenditure than the general fund is disingenuous – a new tax for the Vikings could just as easily go toward schools. Hence, in a nutshell the state would essentially be taking money from the schools and handing it over to the Vikings and the NFL.

    I like watchin’ football, but this would be a lowlight for the state. Minnesota should at least wait until it does not have to resort to lowering its creditworthiness and ripping off schools in order to build a shiny new stadium (especially considering that the Dome now has a new roof and turf).

  17. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 10/21/2011 - 12:10 am.

    The only kind of tax that they can possibly justify is a user fee..These are billionaire owners with millionaire players.
    The Republicans can’t cut aid to Human services , Education and cities and then raise a tax for a stadium..
    Dayton has done an awesome job with the cards he has been dealt.
    A casino near the Mall of America..would bring in millions from out of town visitors..I think it is time to consider it.

  18. Submitted by Patrick Phenow on 10/21/2011 - 09:50 am.

    @5 – The Metrodome has been paid for (by early 90s, I believe?).

    @5 – While the MSFC is currently waiving rent for the vikings, they do have nearly the worst deal otherwise for NFL teams, in terms of concessions, parking, ad revenue, et cetera. See the eterrnally useful wikipedia:

    With my corrections out of the way, I’ll say that if we have to pay for Wilf’s stadium, Arden Hills is a monumentally stupid place to do it. For the state, that is. It’s brilliant for Wilf.

  19. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/22/2011 - 11:29 am.

    Since Mr. Wilf is already a hugely rich man, why is it so imperative to donate public money to making him even more so when those dollars are needed for things that CAN honestly be described as the common good?

    Watch for a new on-line petition within the next week or so from a group now organizing itself in opposition to this giveaway from an UN-rich city and county to someone very rich who wants to become yet more so at our expense.

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