Vikings struggle with stadium plans in Legislature

The team wants to stay in downtown Minneapolis.
March 29, 2009

With Minnesota’s current budget issues, the cost of a new Minnesota Vikings stadium is becoming less and less appealing.
Discussions for a new Vikings stadium began in 1997, and the team was closest when a bill to build a stadium in Blaine, Minn., passed through the Legislature in 2006.
The Vikings declined, however, because they wanted to remain in downtown Minneapolis, but Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, said he doesn’t foresee that opportunity coming anytime soon.
“The clock is ticking around here, and we’ve got to get a budget passed with these huge deficits,” Betzold said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of interest in building a stadium when we’ve got these other problems.”
Betzold authored the 2006 bill to bring the Vikings to Blaine because he represents the northern suburbs and was excited about the possible economic impact it could bring.
But now, that economic impact is becoming more of a risk, and Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, said the current economic climate has made a new stadium less of a priority.

Urgency

The Vikings’ lease on the Metrodome runs out after the 2011 season, and team Manager of Public Affairs Jeff Anderson said he hopes a new stadium plan is passed before that time.
“We absolutely understand the economic situation, but we also need people to understand that we have 30 games remaining on the use agreement,” Anderson said.
The team currently ranks 32nd out of 32 teams in revenue, despite being a playoff team, and Minneapolis Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Roy Terwilliger said 28 teams have either renovated or built new stadiums since 1995.
“The Metrodome is coming up on 30 years of use. It doesn’t give fans the experience they deserve or expect for professional games,” Anderson said.
The most recent discussions between the Legislature and the Vikings took place on Feb. 23 , when Terwilliger reminded the House of Representatives Local Government Division Committee of the urgency for a new stadium.
Although the MSFC does not have a detailed plan for a new stadium, Terwilliger said they are working on a proposal to be done April 16 for a new stadium to be built on the site of the Metrodome.
Some teams choose to renovate their stadiums instead of starting from scratch, but Anderson and Terwilliger said that is not a long-term option. Terwilliger said the cost to renovate is nearly as much as a new stadium, and the Vikings are looking for a 30-year plan.
One reason Buesgens said a Vikings stadium has not been passed yet is because of a lack of urgency brought on by the 2011 lease. He said there have been talks in Legislature about a new stadium since he was elected in 1998, but the early ideas were turned away because the team had many years remaining on its lease.

Economic Impact

One selling point of a new stadium is that it will help the local economy, and Terwilliger said the proposal the MSFC and Conventions, Sports and Leisure International is working on would provide 13,400 new jobs during construction.
This impact would help the local economy, but Buesgens said there is currently no appetite for a new stadium.
“How can you even talk about possibly funding a Vikings stadium, putting taxpayers on the hook for a professional sports stadium, when we’re $6.4 billion in the hole?” he said.
Terwilliger said he understands that the budget difficulties come first for the Legislature, but Anderson said the team has been patient and is confident the problem will be resolved soon.
Buesgens said many representatives do not believe the public should subsidize stadiums for professional sports teams, and despite the economic benefits of a new stadium, he doesn’t expect those people’s opinions to change.
One reason Buesgens said a new stadium is not a high priority is that money spent on professional sports can be considered disposable income. He said even if the Vikings were to someday leave Minnesota, people will find other ways to use that money.
According to CSL International’s findings, a new Vikings stadium would generate more than $32 million in tax revenue — nearly double the current $18 million generated. The findings also say a new stadium would see an annual direct spending of more than $145 million, but Buesgens is not convinced.
“The Vikings would have to convince the legislators that, absent the Vikings, this revenue would not be expended,” he said.

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