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Final stadium approval: A deal few will love, with a partner most don’t trust

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings expect to generate $100 million over the years from those licenses, which, of course, will make attending a Vikings game at the people’s stadium a prohibitive expense for many people.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority signed off Thursday evening on a deal that few will love, with a partner — the Minnesota Vikings — that most don’t seem to trust.

Personal seat licenses, ranging in price from $500 to $10,000, are certain to be the most controversial aspect of the deal that marks a huge step toward ground-breaking for the $975 million football stadium.

But then, there’s little that won’t offend many about the final deal for the stadium, which will be built with a $498 million contribution from the public. Of that money, $348 million is to come from the state and $150 million from the city of Minneapolis.

Dayton, too, unhappy with specifics

Even Gov. Mark Dayton, who pushed mightily to get the deal through the Legislature, was holding his nose.

“For most Minnesotans, this will look like a questionable deal because the economics of professional sports are questionable,” he said.

Dayton, who pushed the project as a “people’s stadium,” has been particularly upset by the issue of personal seat licenses. In this case, to buy a season ticket in 75 percent of the stadium, spectators will have to pay for the privilege — up to $10,000 for the best seats in the house, down to $500 for the seats farther from the action. Those fees are in addition to the actual cost of the ticket.

The Vikings expect to generate $100 million over the years from those licenses, which, of course, will make attending a Vikings game at the people’s stadium a prohibitive expense for many people. If Vikings fans balk at the seat licensing aspect of this deal, the Vikings are on the hook for any amount less than $100 million.

Dayton said that “one dollar for a personal seat license is one dollar too much,” but he was quick to add that such arrangements are price of doing business with a National Football League team.

But even as he grumbled about the economics of pro sports and personal seat licenses, Dayton insisted that the deal will look a lot better “when thousands of people are working to build” the stadium. And it will look better still, he said, when development around the stadium moves from drawing boards to reality.

Dayton OK, though, with deal’s ‘totality’

“If you look at the totality of this,” Dayton said, “we’re going to get a good deal.”

It was never in doubt that the five-member sports authority was going to sign off on this deal. (Highlights of the full deal are here (PDF), and the full texts are here (PDF),  and here (PDF).

In fact, after so many years of haggling, the signing of the documents that set in motion a process that will lead to ground-breaking in mid-November, the signing of this crucial agreement was quick and quiet.

Three members of the authority — one member was absent because of work obligations — heard a quick summary of the terms of the agreement from Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the authority. Only one question was asked.

When the vote was taken, all four approved.  (Members of the authority all had worked on all or parts of the document for months. The vote was a mere formality. )

Not surprisingly, given the angst and anger that always has surrounded the stadium, there was outrage over not only the vote, but the process.

Protests after the fact

In this case, those who had come to protest the deal didn’t have a chance to comment until after the deal was done.

Kelm Helgen defended the vote-first, comment-later order of doing business by saying that throughout the legislative process there had been numerous public hearings. This explanation did not impress many of those who had come to dissent.

Three of those protesting are among the 35 candidates running for mayor. Bob “Again”Carney, Captain Jack Sparrow (he of the pirate’s outfit, complete with plastic sword) and YouTube “star” Jeff Wagner all expressed their disgust in colorful ways.

But in this case, Wagner was the most, ummm, imaginative.

He came to the front of the room, his neck red. He sat at a table facing the commissioners. Then, he took off his shoes and put them on the table.

This action from the clearly agitated Wagner was enough to bring a security guard to the front of the room to stand near the mayoral candidate.

Wagner, who wasn’t wearing socks, wasn’t clear as to what the symbolism of the shoe removal was. He did leave them with the authority, saying something to the effect that since they’re taking everything from the public, they might as well have his shoes, too. 

He also was outraged, he said, because he is a smoker and the state has raised the tobacco tax.

Beyond leaving shoes on the table, there really wasn’t much new those protesting could say.

Legislators weigh in late

The three unusual mayoral candidates weren’t the only politicians trying to have a say on this pivotal day in the stadium saga.

Thursday afternoon,  members of the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities met for the first time in half a year.

Rep. Joe Atkins, a DFLer, expressed his disgust for the lack of meetings by that body.

“We’ve got a billion-dollar project before us that we’re supposed to be providing oversight for,’’ Atkins said.

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In his mind, meetings — perhaps monthly — should be a minimal responsibility of that group.

Rep. Bob Barrett, a Republican stadium foe, left the meeting and told reporters he was still looking for a way to tweak the stadium legislation.

But Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, a DFL who co-chairs the legislative commission, said he didn’t see how it would be possible for the Legislature to change the deal with the Vikings.

Champion did say that “if someone wanted to just voluntarily pay more” that probably would be acceptable. But he doesn’t expect the Vikings to say they want to pay more.

The concern of many around the deal, though, is just what loopholes the Wilf family, the Vikings’ owners, will seek in an effort to pay less. 

Even before the Wilf family was pilloried by a New Jersey judge at the conclusion of a long civil case, there was little trust from public figures for the Wilfs.  Those working on this deal for the public don’t expect the negotiating ever to really end with the Wilfs.

The trust issue is just one area that makes this stadium project dramatically different from the construction of the baseball park, which became Target Field. To the surprise of many, the Pohlad family, owner of the Twins, spent millions beyond the team’s obligations to add extras to the ballpark.

No one expects such behavior from the Wilfs.

Even the governor has made it clear that he doesn’t have the highest trust levels in Vikings ownership, adding that the state doesn’t get to pick who owns the team.

Authority makes its case

Still, Kelm-Helgen put a positive spin on the arrangement. She noted that although the Vikings will use the stadium for 10 — “or hopefully 12” — weeks a season, the $8.5 million in rent, plus an additional $1.5 million they will pay annually for capital improvements, will cover 70 percent of the operational costs of the building.

That means, she said, the Vikings actually are “heavily subsidizing” many amateur sporting events that will be held at the new stadium.

Kelm-Helgen vowed that high school sports and college sports teams will be able to use the new stadium much as they’ve used the Dome, meaning at little cost. Additionally, she said, individuals who have used the Dome for wintertime running and roller skating will continue to be welcome.

Beyond the low-ticket, high-use objectives basic to a “people’s stadium,” Kelm-Helgen said the stadium will be attractive for large, national events. Revenues from those events, including concessions and advertising, will go to the stadium authority.

“The agreement has put the authority in a strong position,’’ she said.

But just in case, it appears the authority has access to several lawyers, although not as many as the Wilfs.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/04/2013 - 10:25 am.

    Amateur sports

    There is no shortage of stadium space in Minnesota. Indeed by building a Vikings Stadium we are cannibalizing the business of the Twins and Gophers Stadium, a fact worsened by the fact that the stadiums can’t negotiate as a group with various events for anti trust reasons. What there was a shortage of, was NFL stadium space. Effectively, what we are spending a billion dollars for is a building that will be meaningfully used only 8 times a year. Whether it’s worth it or not is I guess what we decided.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/04/2013 - 11:46 am.

      “We” decided no such thing.

      “We” were completely iced out of this process – through the many private meetings on matters of public interest, where the real bargains were struck.

      A plebescite had to be avoided at all costs, because it was well known that the result would be thumbs down on public financing of a football stadium.

      The politics that funded this stadium project is open, in-your-face corruption and venality. Minnesota, through its public officials, is now open for business with fraudsters and racketeers. There could be no better outfit to execute such a policy than the MSFA, the “partners” of the Wilfs. They share the same value system.

      “We” do not share the sociopathic value system and ethical cesspool of the Wilfs, nor of the proponents who have elbowed their way up to feed at the trough of public monies.

      Find another pronoun, please. “We” just covers up what’s really going on here.

  2. Submitted by Ed Kohler on 10/04/2013 - 10:49 am.

    It’s a stretch to say that the Vikings will be “heavily subsidizing” the operating costs. Amateur sports in the stadium, like college baseball practices or runners, don’t use the seats, concessions, press boxes, scoreboards, speakers, or game day entrances. They use the roof, the turf, and a single entrance.

  3. Submitted by Wm. Sweeney on 10/04/2013 - 01:03 pm.

    Shameful

    Arithmetic is not my strong suit, but if the State is funding $348M, the City $150M, the NFL $200M (and their ‘loan’ is forgivable) that leaves the Wilfs funding $275M. But they will also receive $100M in seat licenses and $150M in naming rights…which leaves them funding $25M!! Well, there is a time value to the dollars from seat licenses and naming rights…so maybe the Wilfs wind up paying $100M — or about 10% of this deal.

    And how much does the stadium increase the value of the Vikings franchise? And who is paying for cost overruns??

    Is the term hayseeds still in use??

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/04/2013 - 01:34 pm.

    “We” were completely iced out of this process – through the many private meetings on matters of public interest, where the real bargains were struck.

    We elected the legislators who made the decision, and for the most part re-elected them. We built the Gopher and Twins Stadium and no once seems to care about the dirty deals and inept decision making that got them done.

  5. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/04/2013 - 02:56 pm.

    Trust?

    ” A partner most don’t trust” – would that be Mark Dayton or Ted Mondale?

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/05/2013 - 09:41 am.

    This has actually managed to get more disgusting

    These stadium deals are disgusting perversions of our democratic process and public policy to begin with, but these complaints after the fact just add more nausea. Dayton must be counting on public amnesia when he claims that seat licenses are some kind of surprise, there were openly discussed several times before the vote. Look, the whole point of these stadiums and arenas is to increase revenue for private sports franchises, of course they’re going to try to make as much money as they can in their new stadium. Then we have the fact that despite everyone’s assurance that no general fund money would be needed; the E-gambling gambit failed to produce a single dollar of of financing (this was predictable and it WAS predicted); hence, almost the entire share of the states funding will come out of the general fund (rather it will be diverted on it’s way to the general fund). As far as jobs are concerned, we’re providing a billion dollar subsidy for a franchise that employs fewer than a dozen people full time year round, and spending a billion dollars to create around 600 full time equivalent (FTE’s) construction jobs over the course of two years (math wise that works out to around 300 FTE’s per year). I would be cheaper and better for the economy to just give 500 construction workers a million dollars a piece.

    There is no way this deal could ever be described as a “good” deal for anyone other than the NFL and Wilf. My advice to Dayton to would be to just shut-up and move on. The less said about all of this the better.

  7. Submitted by mark wallek on 10/07/2013 - 09:21 am.

    Worship Service

    The disgusting new Crystal Cathedral for the gutless Vikings will likely fill every Sunday with the hopeless hopefuls. Keeping warm in the inclement weather has meant only that the vikes continue to lose, as they will. This game should be played outdoors only, but see what happens when it becomes a rich boys’ sport?

  8. Submitted by Joanne Kuzelka on 10/08/2013 - 08:42 am.

    Petition to defund?

    Are we, the taxpayers, the funders of this savvy plan to funnel more tax money to millionaires, able to generate any organized protest, any demand to defund this stinker?

  9. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 10/08/2013 - 02:43 pm.

    Wow, who could have predicted it?…

    …an anti-stadium piece on MinnPost. Yawn!

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