Vikings stadium prospects: Assessing the winners, losers and long shots

Given that so much of Tuesday’s Vikings stadium hearing focused on various forms of gaming, here’s a look at some of the winners, losers and long shots.

• Almost a sure thing: The money to fund a stadium isn’t going to come from the arts and cultural legacy money. That trial balloon, floated by a legislator months ago, never gained much altitude.

And it was shot full of holes by arts groups at Tuesday’s lengthy joint Senate committee meeting.

A large delegation of arts supporters stood outside the hearing room carried not so subtle signs for legislators to ponder, such as:

“Did Zygi doorknock in 2008? We did.”

But it wasn’t just the arts crowd making a point that a football stadium deosn’t qualify for Legacy Amendment spending.

Outdoor organizations sided with the arts folks, too.

“They [outdoor organizations] understand that if they [legislators] can steal arts and culture funds, they’d be next,” said Sheila Smith, executive director of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, who helped organize the arts turnout.

• A pretty sure thing: The Vikings will play in the Metrodome next year, with or without a completed stadium deal. The Vikes and the Stadium Commission are having a seemingly friendly disagreement over clauses in the expiring lease.

The commission says because the roof fell on the Dome last season, the team didn’t play the entire 2010 season in the Dome, as required in the lease, and therefore must stay an extra year.

The Vikings dispute that, but not strenuously. The fact that the NFL didn’t even bother to send a representative to this hearing further suggests that the issue isn’t as urgent as the team would like it to seem.

• A big loser: The Vikings, who have been trying to impress people by saying the $425 million they’re willing to invest in the stadium is “the third highest” investment ever for a pro team. After Wednesday’s hearing, it’s likely the team will have to up its ante.

Sen. John Marty
Sen. John Marty

Legislators were struck by several realities, including the belief that the public investment the team is seeking “is the biggest subsidy of all time,” in the words of DFL Sen. John Marty of Roseville.

Beyond that, Sen. Julianne Ortman, the Chanhassen Republican who chaired the session, kept asking about what revenue the public would gain from the stadium.

“Naming rights?” she asked the Vikings’ Steven Poppen.

That revenue would be for the team, he explained.

Ortman asked about revenue that might be raised through sales of personal seat licenses. (That’s money raised from ticket holders who pay, sometimes thousands of dollars, for the privilege of buying tickets.)

That revenue would be for the team, Poppen said.

Would a sweetheart loan from the NFL be in addition to the Vikings portion or as part of it?

That would be part of the Vikings investment, Poppen explained.

By this time, several senators were scratching their heads and shuffling papers.

• The biggest loser: Ramsey County officials, who still have the site the Vikings’ want, but with a sales tax off the table, have no way to pay for it. Unless, of course, one of the many gambling proposals wins favor in the Legislature and both “local” and “state” portions of the public subsidy come from the same pot.

Ortman kept trying to pin down Ramsey County finance chief Lee Mehrkens on where the county’s money will come from.

Mehrkens dodged, deked, bluffed.

Ortman pressed. Where’s the money?

Sen. Julianne Ortman
Sen. Julianne Ortman

“We have thoughts on a financial proposal,” Mehrkens said.

“We’re listening,” said Ortman.

• Best cards up: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak seemed to win at least considerable attention from the senators when he said the city’s top choice for the new stadium is the old Metrodome site.

The senators seemed to understand that light rail and other infrastructure already exists at the site and were mildly interested in the “game day” experiences Rybak promised the fans could have at the old armory nearby.

But what really talks at the Capitol is money. Rybak insists the Metrodome site would cost $215 million less than any other site.

He also says the city could eventually come up with some $300 milllion by extending the convention center tax at some point in the future.

But that’s where the city’s deal gets hazy. Without some serious editing of the city charter, it’s not clear how available that money would be for a football stadium. It’s not even clear how much support there is for the stadium among Minneapolis City Council members.

• Biggest long shot: The White Earth Indian proposal to build a $700 million tribal hotel/casino in Arden Hills.

The plan, proposed by tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, was one of the few new ideas presented during more than five hours of testimony. But the plan, under which the state and tribe would split projected $300 million in annual profits, is so new that the White Earth leaders have not talked about it with the Vikings, Ramsey County or officials in Arden Hills.

New ideas don’t tend to get taken seriously at the Capitol because legislators typically need years to kick around an idea before they find a comfort level with it.

• Most comfortable hand: Because a racino proposal has been around for a decade, legislators — and the public at large — seems more comfortable with putting slot machines at the area’s two racetracks than any other gaming plan.

It doesn’t hurt that at the hearing, racinos were proposed by three senators, Claire Robling, R-Jordan, Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, and Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin.

“We [racinod] can be the local partner,” said John Derus, a board member of the Running Aces racetrack in Columbus.

• Best dice roll: UNITE HERE, the union group working closely with private investors who want to turn Block E into a major casino, paid to bring a Detroit casino worker, Sandra Poinsettia, to testify. She was brilliant.

Most who testify at these hearings come with charts about potential revenues, or studies that show possible outcomes.

The Block E developers, meanwhile, talk about the casino as a place that will employ more than 2,000 people.

Poinsettia put flesh and bones on that projection. “These are good jobs,” she said, talking of $15-an-hour jobs with “the best benefits anywhere.” People enjoy their work, and the casinos have helped turned Detroit around, she said.

Poinsettia realized she was being given more time to speak than most at the tightly controlled hearing. “I think you’re being kind because I’m a visitor,” Poinsettia said to Ortman.

“I am,” said Ortman, smiling.

But Ortman also was being kind because this was a real person talking about a real job in a gritty city.

“You still hear a lot of negative images about Detroit,” Poinsettia said. “But come to downtown Detroit. You’ll have a good time.”

• The big bet: Will anything get accomplished on a stadium plan — either a thumbs up or a thumbs down — in this legislative session?

Most pols seem to think it’s unlikely, not with an election a few months after the session ends. The betting among most is that the safest thing for pols to do is nothing.

Rep. Morrie Lanning
Rep. Morrie Lanning

But Rep. Morrie Lanning, the Moorhead Republican who is leading the push in the House to get a Vikings’ deal done, thinks that’s a bad mistake.

“We’ve got to make a decision in the near future,” he said. “It’s not going to be better — or easier — a year from now.”

Lanning, who watched the entire Senate proceeding Wednesday, said that he believes most Minnesotans are weary of the procrastination by politicians on the issue.

“If nothing is decided, both opponents and proponents of a stadium will be upset,” he predicted.

“If it just keeps hanging out there, I think people will remember that when they go to the polls. They want a conclusion.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by craig furguson on 12/07/2011 - 10:28 am.

    “Biggest long shot: The White Earth Indian proposal to build a $700 million tribal hotel/casino in Arden Hills.” This was actually discussed as a budget solution a few years ago and they are the only ones bringing casino revenue to the table that actually have authority to operate a casino. Plus it could potentially provide economic support for a very poor tribe. Better yet would be to put the stadium and casino in downtown Minneapolis, for easy transit for workers and access to travelers going through MSP Airport, but that would limit Ziggy’s opportunities for development in Arden Hills.

  2. Submitted by David Greene on 12/07/2011 - 11:26 am.

    Of course, Zygi can develop the Arden Hills site whenever he wants to. Just buy the land and do it, no stadium needed.

    Of course, what he wants is a public subsidy to do development. The stadium is simply the vehicle to get it.

  3. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/07/2011 - 03:38 pm.

    David #2 has a point. Ramsey County has been trying to do something with that big empty and toxic land for a long time. If they gave it to Zygi, even absolutely free, maybe nobody would object. Why can’t he have it without a stadium? The Metrodome site makes a lot more sense. Since it’s all about the development opportunity in Arden Hills anyway,just give Zygi the rights, and the state and city can handle Minneapolis development. Then we don’t have to figure out what to do with the Dome site after the Dome is gone.

  4. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 12/07/2011 - 03:49 pm.

    Rep. Lanning is right when he says “most Minnesotans are weary”. But we’re not weary of procrastination- we’re weary of this drawn out effort to push through a publicly funded stadium, when a) most don’t want to fund it, and b) no clear benefit exists that couldn’t be gotten with spending the same money elsewhere (where it didn’t all go to one very rich man).

    And I’m afraid they’re wearing down the opposition. The motivation of a small group working full-time to extract millions probably runs deeper than that of people trying to stop them, who are trying to do it during their spare time. These hearings are a great example- they’re about where to have the stadium and how to pay for it, not the more relevant questions of “should the public subsidize a very wealthy man to improve his standing in a highly profitable business”, and “does it really harm the state in a meaningful way to not have a pro-football team?”

  5. Submitted by jody rooney on 12/07/2011 - 05:15 pm.

    Actually a three tribes (Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake) casino for down town has also been proposed before. With an appropriate revenue sharing agreement it might be workable. It would probably be similar to the casino in Milwaukee but it would take advantage of existing public capital investment.

    The thought of all the empty store fronts around the metrodome doesn’t do much for me.

  6. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 12/08/2011 - 08:49 am.

    #2 is on the money and so is #4.

    What Rep. Morrie Lanning needs to realize is that most Minnesotans do not want a penny of their own personal tax burden to go to a new stadium. That is especially true in the Twin Cities where the extra burden from pro-sports subsidies has already fallen several times. All these proposals are to have somebody else put up their public moneys.

    Why isn’t the Tea Party screaming bloody murder over this! One would think that this issue should hit all of them right where they live. Talk about a government handout!

    IMO the delayed school disbursements have to be issued first before anybody can honestly say that the state even has any funds that could be tapped. Even then far more public benefit would be realized by applying whatever was left over to infrastructure.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/08/2011 - 09:45 am.

    One of the main stadium strategies has always been to create a sense of inevitability, talk about how, not why or if. That’s is part of an overall strategy to wear down opposition. I think it’s too early to say if it’s wearing people down, it may well be that people will become more energized at some point.

    The main sticking point here is that the bag of tricks is largely empty. The sales tax dodge wont’ work this time, gambling revenue may not be sufficient (they’ll need $50 million a year), and any casino will probably end up in court, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to drop a casino on Block E, seem like a trouble magnet for an area that can barely handle dance clubs. The public money just isn’t there, even if people are worn down.

  8. Submitted by Matthew Zabka on 12/10/2011 - 01:13 pm.

    I live in Detroit. Gambling has not “turned around” this city.

  9. Submitted by tim jones on 12/15/2011 - 12:35 am.

    nice recap doug. well done.rt is a one man show in this arena of baboons. thell the stadium commision to work with him rather than against him

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