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Vikings stadium plan likely the best lawmakers will see

The Vikings stadium plan unveiled at a March 1 press conference.

Anybody still think Target Field was a bad idea?

Since its opening two years ago, the Twins’ graceful new ballpark has won national acclaim and earned a place alongside other impressive upgrades to the local sports and cultural scene. Taken altogether, the Guthrie, Walker, TCF Bank Stadium, Xcel Center, the Science Museum of Minnesota and the soon-to-be-renovated Orchestra Hall, among other investments, have added immeasurably to value of living in this city and state.

Now it’s the Vikings’ turn.

The plan for a stadium on the Metrodome footprint that was unveiled Thursday by state, city and team negotiators isn’t perfect. But it’s probably the best that legislators and  Minneapolis City Council members will ever see. And it offers a reasonable solution to a problem that’s been simmering for more than a decade.

The plan is reasonable both in its stadium design and its financing.

A central, accessible location

First the design. While a stadium would fit better in a sports and entertainment district on downtown’s west side, the east side location isn’t bad. Two major freeways cross nearby, with a new interchange planned for Washington/3rd Street whether the stadium is built or not. Parking? Fans accustomed to the Dome won’t have to change their habits. New premium parking for 650 cars will be added in a ramp along 3rd Street, with a skyway connection to the stadium.

More important over the life of the stadium is transit. Light rail access is impressive, with a station sitting smack on a new plaza at the stadium’s main entrance. (It’s on the location of the current Metrodome station, with 450 parking spaces underground.) The station will serve both the Green and Blue lines, meaning that riders from Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, St. Paul and Woodbury will be able to reach the stadium directly when those lines are completed in the coming years. Northstar commuter trains are only four stops away.

Although on-site tailgating will be limited, rail connections make remote tailgating an attractive option. Tailgators will find a way.

A district ripe for redevelopment

The site plan shows the plaza eventually stretching westward to 5th Avenue and anticipates the eventual razing of the Star Tribune building. Perhaps as likely, those blocks will be redeveloped as high-rise or mid-rise housing with ground-floor retail, much in the character of the adjacent Mill District.

Indeed, the Mill District’s success with the Guthrie, Gold Medal Park and adjacent housing bodes well for the redevelopment potential near the new stadium. It’s a far more desirable location than when the Metrodome was going up in the early ‘80s.

A more playful version of the Colts’ stadium

As for the stadium itself, the architectural program is patterned after Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, the site of this year’s Super Bowl. Opened in 2008, Lucas has a retractable roof and a flexible design that allows a wide variety of events. The Vikings roof will be fixed (it’s cheaper), but built to allow a convertible cover at a later date. The Lucus exterior is classic red brick, designed to mimic the Chicago warehouse style so prevalent in the Midwest. It comes across as a giant factory.

Zygi Wilf
REUTERS/Eric MillerVikings owner Zygi Wilf

Something more playful might be better on the Metrodome site — patterns that pick up the character of nearby historic buildings, perhaps, but that also reflect the forward-leaning nature of Minneapolis architecture. Target Field is a great example — and a hard act to follow.

Central to the interior design is the dramatic exposed steel structure that supports the roof and the steep, horseshoe-shaped seating bowl that features a giant “picture window” to show off the city skyline. Capacity: 65,000, including 7,500 club seats and 150 suites.

Construction will be phased with the aim of forcing the team to play for only one year at the University of Minnesota. Contractors face a challenge in building two-thirds of the new stadium while the Metrodome still operates, then quickly demolishing the Dome and finishing the final third.

But Target Field was also a complex job. The ballpark had to fit partially over an active rail line and a freeway while squeezing under some adjoining streets. With no exterior space to erect cranes or store building materials, Mortenson Construction had to build the ballpark from the inside out, positioning its equipment on the infield. The Vikings project isn’t so cramped, but faces plenty of architectural and engineering challenges.

A reasonable financial plan

The stadium’s fortunes won’t rise or fall on design, however, but on financing, and on the politics of financing.

Most Minnesotans cling to the idea that the public has no business subsidizing professional sports, and, in a perfect world, they’re right. Too bad we don’t live in such a world. The market dictates that in mid-sized NFL cities such as ours, public and private partners are required.

Under the plan announced on Thursday, the Vikings will pay 44 percent of the $975 million construction cost; the state will pay 41 percent, and the city 15 percent. Over the life of the project (including operating and additional capital costs), the Vikings are projected to pay 51.6 percent; the state 26.7 percent, and the city 22.7 percent. The building will be owned by a new stadium authority.

No new general-fund state revenues and no additional city taxes will be needed. State bonds will be repaid by charitable gaming receipts, including new electronic pull-tabs. The city’s portion will be paid by extending existing hospitality sales taxes that have been used to support the Minneapolis Convention Center. The plan also includes a way for Minneapolis to claim control over some of the sales tax revenue it sends to the state to renovate Target Center and retire its debt.

A difficult road ahead

Given the destructive nature of today’s politics, legislators and City Council members will search for all kinds of excuses to abort this plan. Some will abhor gaming revenues. Some will demand a referendum. Some will consider the NFL unworthy of public involvement. Voting for something you consider imperfect has never been tougher in American politics. Compromise has become a dirty word. Still, this plan may come as close to reasonable as any plan the politicians at the Capitol and City Hall will ever see.

The economy has suffered a huge blow. People need the jobs that this project will deliver. And Minnesota, if it wants to emerge from this recession as a competitive state, needs to continue investing in its quality of life. The Vikings, whether or not you like football, are an important asset. That picture window in the west end zone of the new stadium, that’s the window through which millions of Americans will see our city and state.

Steve Berg is a writer and urban design consultant. He’s the author of “Target Field: The New Home of the Minnesota Twins.”

Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Brad James on 03/02/2012 - 09:47 am.


    Great news for Goldman Sachs!

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/02/2012 - 09:52 am.

    The stadium

    Anybody still think Target Field was a bad idea?

    Well sure, a lot of people do. And what is hardly disputed now is that Target Field came at way too high a price. But in any event, this line of not quite argument, mostly suggests that if one has had two pieces of cake already, we really should have a third. We have built two stadiums in recent years, the Gopher Stadium and the Twins Stadium. In terms of stadium capacity we are maxed out. This is especially true, when you also consider that the Twin Cities also seems to have one more sports arena than it really needs.

    The economic merits of the Twins Stadium were always at best dubious. But one advantage it has is that it will be used 81 times a year. It’s an actively used facility. A Vikings Stadium will be used only 8 times a year. I know, I know, there will lots of schedule filling events scrounged up to fool us all into thinking the stadium is something other than an economic black hole. There will be tractor pulls, high school graduations, the occasional high school graduation ceremony. Maybe even a card show or two. But there are alternative venues for all of these which could handle them just as well, and a lot more cheaply than is required by the extremely high cost structure of an operating NFL stadium.

    The market does in fact dictate that public financing is required to build a stadium. But what the market doesn’t dictate is that we must build one. And it most certainly does not dictate that the people of Minneapolis, already burdened with the costs of the Twins Stadium, should take on the greater cost of a far less economically viable Vikings Stadium. Neither of which benefits the average Minneapolis resident in the slightest degree.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/02/2012 - 10:18 am.


    In terms of the destructive nature of our politics, it’s really hard for me at this moment to come up with anything more cynical, and more damaging to the trust we need to have in our politicians than what’s going on with the stadium today. The governor and his friends are breaking the law by building the stadium in defiance of the city charter. Lawyerly quibbles aside, don’t we all know that? The governor and his friends are telling us that the stadium is being built for free. Don’t we all know that to be false? In a state where bridges collapse, where the infrastructure is in decline, where we literally have to borrow from school children to “balance” the budget, don’t we all understand in our collective hearts of hearts, that each stadium we have built in recent years has been a monument to misplaced governmental priorities? Evidence in brick and stone of our statewide and indeed nationwide inability to come to grips with the real problems that face us?

  4. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 03/02/2012 - 10:33 am.

    hardly disputed

    Hiram, “And what is hardly disputed now is that Target Field came at way too high a price.” say what? You might still be unhappy and I’m sure you’re not the only one, but opinion has generally come down on the other side of that.

    I suppose you’re acknowledging that there are more events than just Vikings games, but you blow them off and severely misstate them. The Dome is a busy place, and considering how a bunch of events entailed taking what was built and figuring out something to do with it, designing the new stadium for wider uses could make it even busier than the Dome.

    I’ll also mention that as a Minneapolis resident, finding financing for the Target Center debt out of this is a sweet bonus. Likewise with a plaza larger and more publicly usable than just closing off Chicago Av. before games, and with replacing surface parking with ramps to open land for the sort of retail development we used to hope the Dome would spark. This is as good a deal as I hoped for, and we would be smart to grab it.

  5. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/02/2012 - 10:42 am.

    There are no “turns”.

    Public funding for private ventures is not an entitlement. Each public investment in a private enterprise must, at a minimum, demonstrate a good return on that investment and that the public good to be derived from the investment is more important than other potential investments. This investment fails both tests, in my view and in the views of dozens of independent professionals who have analyzed its economic aspects. We can live without an in-town professional football team.

    “No build” is also a reasonable solution to “a problem that’s been simmering for more than a decade.” In fact, there is no public problem whatsoever. The entire matter is nothing more than a desire for greater profit on the part of Vikings and NFL ownership and players, in an era in which their profits are the greatest they’ve ever been. If the economics of the business don’t provide the capital to build the industry’s own facilities, then market forces are either out of whack or indicating that something has to change within the industry.

    Want jobs? Offer to spend $550 million on facilities for one or more of the Fortune 500 corporations based in Minnesota; offer start up funds for medical and IT entrepeneurs; replace our outdated and dangerous roads and bridges; modernize our schools and public buildings to make them more energy efficient and less costly to operate. The list is virtually endless. The list should not begin with building a pro sports stadium.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/02/2012 - 10:53 am.

    the dome

    I am sure that the dome, and the Gopher and Twins stadiums are busy places. A lot of effort goes in to making them appear so. I am sure people will be very determined to make the Vikings Stadium appear to be a busy place as well. And somehow ways to conceal the immense operating expenses entailed in running a full blown NFL stadium. Hiding the truth is one thing our politicians are good at.

    Retail space. Talk about classic pushing on the economic string. We are spending a billion dollars to add a couple of Gap stores to the downtown area. This in a retail environment already crushed by over expansion, and cannibalization. The malls, which have huge competitive advantages over downtown retail space, places where parking doesn’t involve paying a small ransom to Zygi Wilf are under incredible pressure now. As it happens, a Vikings Stadium will only be used 8 times a year and while people are using it, they won’t be shopping at that nearby retail space. The Metrodome never resulted in significant economic development when it was used 90 times a year. Are the prospects really improved when it’s used only 8 times a year? Not counting card shows?

  7. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/02/2012 - 12:15 pm.

    It is time to say NO!

    If 3M or Medtronic said I need a building for long term high tech work and jobs, we would give them some support, but they would have to foot the bill for a building. That type of opportunity we should jump at. Sports franchises, which are very private businesses too, blackmail us with this we’ll move somewhere else if you don’t build us a stadium routine. Remember Carl Pohlad was going to move the Twins to North Carolina (to a town that wasn’t big enough to support the Twins) if he didn’t get his way. A stadium does bring in good short term jobs. Then when construction is done it turns into poor quality jobs – beer sellers. Nearly a billion dollars for a very private franchise stadium that will play 8 games a year is not a good return on investment. There is not a single analysis that shows stadiums are a good investment. If there was a valid analysis they would be parading up and down out in front of the stadium proving what a good deal it is. The Twins have already proven it does nothing to improve the quality of play. Look at the Metro dome what a mess it is around it. Other than the plaza it looks pretty much as it did the day it opened. Now they want to put a new stadium on the same foot print with no room for revitalization other than a parking ramp. They have played in the dome for many years and there is no reason it can’t continue. In a new stadium the football field will still be 100 yards long, the turf will be virtually the same, and the salaries will still be way out proportion with the rest of society. The only reason they want a new stadium is to fatten Wilf’s wallet. It is time for the public to call the bluff of sports franchises and just say NO.

  8. Submitted by Pete Barrett on 03/02/2012 - 12:07 pm.

    How Much?

    I’d like to know how much the State put into the Walker, the Guthrie and the Science Museum combined? I doubt we as state taxpayers spent any where near a combined $500M or so.

    And how much of the profits from those three institutions goes to billionaires? Oh that’s right, they’re all non-profits that will never threaten to leave here unless we build another palace in 25 years.

  9. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 03/02/2012 - 12:22 pm.

    Vikings stadium

    It’s interesting, and sad, to see how our public officials on both sides of the aisle can come up with “creative” financing for an entertainment venue, but spending on education, infrastructure, health, public libraries, and other matters that impact society at large is neglected. I like sports as much as the next person, but in our society it seems that sports have become the opiate of the people.

    Several authors such as Roger Noll, Dave Zirin, and others have provided information that public money going to sports venues is not a wise investment for communities and the dollars would be better spent elsewhere. I have not seen research to the contrary, but if it exists I wish somebody would provide it.

    Jim Bouton, the former major league pitcher and “Ball Four” author gave his views. He stated that public financing of stadiums funnels money “directly into the pockets of a handful of very wealthy individuals who could build these stadiums on their own if it made financial sense. If they don’t make financial sense, then they shouldn’t be building them. If I was a team owner today, asking for public money, I’d be ashamed of myself. But we’ve gone beyond shame. There’s no such thing as shame anymore.”

  10. Submitted by Max Hammer on 03/02/2012 - 12:34 pm.

    A stadium bill isn’t a jobs bill.

    A stadium is a public asset that brings a lot of happiness to millions of people within the state and publicity to the city of Minneapolis.

    The fact that stadiums add short-term construction jobs and re-develop blighted areas is only an added benefit.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/02/2012 - 01:16 pm.


      doesn’t fund education or pay taxes.

      To suggest we need a new stadium every time we want publicity is ridiculous. We have a stadium. Three, in fact. If that’s not good enough for ya, do some PRIVATE fundraisers.

      • Submitted by Max Hammer on 03/02/2012 - 01:52 pm.

        Most public assets don’t fund education or pay taxes. Our excellent park system in Minneapolis improves our quality of life, and light rail makes Minneapolis more accessible, improves blighted areas and adds to the city’s vibrancy. Neither or those funds education or pays taxes.

        Believe it or not, we have to pay for things we want, and a lot of people want the Vikings.

        • Submitted by Pete Barrett on 03/02/2012 - 02:57 pm.

          I Want A Pony

          But no one is going to buy me a pony.

          What you are saying is that we all need to support a private enterprise.

        • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 03/02/2012 - 05:11 pm.

          Well, we really don’t know, do we

          Whether “a lot of people want the Vikings”? Another dog that hasn’t barked here (like a rigorous economic analysis of the public value of a stadium) is that over the past decade of this push for a stadium there hasn’t been, to my knowledge, any kind of survey/research of any rigor into how many Minnesotans do care about the Vikings, or about having a professional football team in Minnesota, or how much they would be willing to pay for it. Since the stadium proponents are the folks with the means and motive to commission this, that they haven’t done so is highly indicative of what the results might be.

  11. Submitted by Brian Simon on 03/02/2012 - 12:59 pm.


    What an utter disappointment. Is this really the best use of multiple blocks of downtown real estate & a half billion dollars? I am disgusted.

  12. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/02/2012 - 01:11 pm.

    Remember when

    Target Field cost half the proposed Vikings stadium, INCLUDING infrastructure improvements, for 10 times the games?

    Remember when all kinds of events, including the Vikings games, were held in the Metrodome without any problems?

    Remember when the NFL threatened to black out the Vikings games because they couldn’t even fill the Metrodome?

    Remember when the Metrodome failed to spawn more long term jobs and business growth near the Metrodome, let alone anywhere else?

    Yeah, I remember when Target Field was a bad idea. I’m sure there are plenty of people who still feel like it’s a boondoggle, even if it is only half the boondoggle a new Vikings stadium is estimated to be (and likely UNDER estimated to be).

  13. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/02/2012 - 01:33 pm.

    I’m agnostic

    Why do you people care whether or not there’s a new Vikings stadium being built? Unless you’re a gambler, you’re not paying for it. It’s a wash. Get over it.

  14. Submitted by Jerilyn Jackson on 03/02/2012 - 01:41 pm.

    “Charitable gambling”

    “Charitable gambling” receipts that go into the pocket of a millionaire? How appalling! Lot’s of things could bring “a lot of happiness to millions of people within the state.” Like using those charitable funds to make life a little better for the millions of people who really need them.

  15. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/02/2012 - 02:11 pm.

    If the stadium is publicly owned

    why should the team be given the revenue from naming rights and executive suites, et cetera?

    Will it even pay rent on the new stadium (it’s been ten years since it paid rent on the Dome)?

    Will Minneapolis honor the expressed will of the people by submitting this over $10-million expense to the people via a referendum as called for by its charter or will it try some way to semi-legally opt for the stadium?

    If the state is cutting the mis-named Local Government Aid (should be Local Share of State Revenue) to zero over the next few years, is it safe for Minneapolis to take on a debt of this size for the stadium while NOT using the income intended for the Target Center to which it is pledged?

  16. Submitted by Ed Kohler on 03/02/2012 - 02:16 pm.

    Best use of gambling dollars?

    @Dennis, are you really suggesting that providing half a billion in corporate welfare to a private out of state business is the best use of public revenue?

  17. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/02/2012 - 06:09 pm.

    Our priorities are all messed up!

    We, the public, have our priorities all screwed up. We are willing to pay more for entertainment than our future. Here we are rushing to have an out of state billionaire be the big benefactor of what will likely be our latest bad political decision. We have schools in our system over 100 year old. The last administration short changed the school districts all so Pawlenty could say he balanced the budget and looked presidential. So then the school district had to borrow money to operate properly and pay back those loans with interest. Teachers frequently have to reach into their own pockets to buy supplies they need. We better start to take care of our future and stop the nonsense with the billionaires. Many are billionaires for a reason, they know how to work the system in their favor. It is our money and we need to put more sense behind the way we spend it. Wake Up Voters! The choice is yours.

  18. Submitted by Tom Regnier on 03/03/2012 - 08:43 am.

    More gambling

    So many comments focus on the proposed stadium adding to the quality of life and public image of our state. I would argue that increased gambling and counting on gambling to pay off debts is a weakening of our state and its infrastructure.

    When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, someone asked him whether or not he was in favor of state lotteries. He replied, “I think people should be taxed on their strengths and not their weaknesses.” ‘Nuff said.

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