Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? III -- Game-changer or Game Over?

As a rule, politicians are universally impressed with their own handiwork. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is no exception and he was quite proud of his application of cosmetics to a pig yesterday:

With the legislative clock ticking down, Minneapolis officials on Monday unveiled a billion-dollar "game changer" that would build a new Vikings stadium at the Metrodome site, fix up city-owned Target Center and cut property taxes, too.

There's also evidence that the proposal cures the heartbreak of psoriasis and turns a sandwich into a banquet. But how does it do all these things?

The plan includes a bevy of new or expanded taxes: admission taxes on stadium events, higher street parking fees on game days and extension of a downtown hotel, liquor and restaurant tax citywide. It also would institute a 0.15 percent sales tax, similar to one that Hennepin County imposed to help build Target Field.

The proposal, introduced by Mayor R.T. Rybak at a State Capitol news conference, would have the Vikings paying 45 percent -- $400 million -- of an $895 million roofed stadium on the Dome site.
So, how do the Vikings like that idea? About as well as you might imagine:

The team reacted coolly.

Lester Bagley, a Vikings' vice president, said the Vikings appreciated the proposal but that a $400 million contribution was too much. He also noted that playing in the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium for three years while the new field was built would cost the Vikings $40 million in lost revenue.

"$440 million for the site does not work, and it's not something we can support," Bagley said. "Three parties need to negotiate a deal, and this does not accomplish that."
We'll give Bagley credit for one thing:  he didn't just spit and say "feh" when asked for a public response. I have to assume that was his first instinct, though.

It's understandable that Rybak felt like he had to do something, anything at this point. The Vikings do bring a lot of money into the city of Minneapolis and it would be a civic blow if the team were to leave for the brownfields of suburbia. But there was no way his proposal was gonna fly. Does anyone really believe that the restaurants in town would want to shoulder the burden of collecting more taxes, or that people driving to the game would want to pay up to a $10 tax surcharge for parking? It's quite easy know to pay north of $30 for a parking spot near the Dome on game day now. Do you suppose the people would just accept that cost?

And what on earth was Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor doing there, anyway? I can see why he'd want to get in on some action to spruce up his playground, but linking the two seemed pretty silly. As a general rule, if you're going to announce a stadium proposal, it makes sense to have the owner who would be the tenant at the event, not the owner of a different team.

There are multiple reasons why the Vikings would prefer Arden Hills. We've touched on some of these already, but the Minneapolis proposal brings those reasons into relief. To recap:
  • Zygi Wilf is a real estate developer. The Arden Hills site gives him a chance to control a lot of prime real estate.
  • Wilf might be willing to pay part of the cost of the stadium, but he fully expects to get his money back. He'll have a much better chance to achieve that goal if he can control revenue streams from parking, development and the like. He won't be able to do that in Minneapolis, but he will in Arden Hills.
  • Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega will commit Ramsey County to a larger share of the cost than Rybak can offer for Minneapolis. As a Ramsey County taxpayer, I'm deeply unhappy about this. But for now, there's little I can do to stop it.
  • The season ticket buyers in the southern and western suburbs may bitch and moan about driving an extra 10 miles to get to the game, but if the alternative is watching the team leave town, they'll bite down hard and take it. Minneapolis can bray all it wants about the supposed advantage of light rail service, but the vast majority of fans still come to the game by automobile. And if the team builds in Arden Hills, they'll have a big ol' parking lot with lots of room for tailgating.
The Arden Hills site may not make it through the legislature this time around, because there are far more important issues than a Vikings stadium. But one thing is clear -- the Arden Hills proposal is the only one that has any chance. At this point, Minneapolis has to be rooting for gridlock.

1 comment:

Night Writer said...

The conundrum we face is that the public never wants a new stadium. Until they have one, that is. Where are the protests outside of Target Field? (Well, there may be a few, but they are based on the play of the team, not the process that led to the new palace.)

Populism is, well, popular - at least in theory, if not principle. Calvin Griffin and then the Pohlads were reviled for being cheap and greedy in earlier stadium battles (though Calvin never wanted the Dome) yet when the games begin everyone is a fan. Nary is heard a discouraging word about Target Field now; did they bury Ricky Rask underneath the flagpole in right field?