The Minnesota Vikings and Ramsey County announced an agreement on Tuesday to build a $1 billion football stadium with a retractable roof in Arden Hills, capping a furious day of last-minute negotiations and brushing aside concerns from Gov. Mark Dayton and others that the project may be seriously flawed.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, flanked by the team's iconic former coach, Bud Grant, described the deal as purple-clad fans broke into cheers and applause at a county public works facility. The team, trying to build momentum for a plan that already faces heavy skepticism at the State Capitol, showed a film that attempted to link the new stadium to the team's glory days, when it played in the cold at Met Stadium in Bloomington during the 1960s and '70s.
There's a whole lot to unpack about this story. We'll get to the politics in a later post, but for now I want to concentrate on two things:
1) What the Vikings are saying; and
2) What it means about certain assumptions the state government routinely makes:
Let's say this from the start: I agree with the clear majority of Minnesotans that public money for a Vikings stadium ought to be off the table. We have bigger issues to deal with, now and later. Having said that, we need to recognize a few things.
- The Vikings may talk about civic commitment and the emotional purchase they have on people in this state, but in the end those things mean far less than money. The Vikings prefer the Arden Hills location because they can make more money there than they could in any configuration in Minneapolis. Neither RT Rybak, nor Mike Opat, nor anyone else in the Mill City can provide what Arden Hills does.
- The Vikings talked at some length yesterday about the importance of the fan experience, specifically tailgating. Tailgating is fun, but adding parking revenue to their coffers is much more fun for the Vikings than throwing a frisbee around or pounding a few Grain Belts before kickoff.
- The Vikings aren't looking at their new stadium as a place to play -- they are looking at it as a place to be. I would imagine that if they can get control of the Arden Hills site, they will build more than just a Hall of Fame. I would fully expect they'd leave Winter Park as well.
- Regarding infrastructure, one thing should be clear. Unlike Rybak, the Met Council and other random bien pensants around town, the Vikings couldn't care less about light rail. Repeatedly we have heard how access to light rail is a key selling feature for the proposed Minneapolis sites. It's not. The Vikings can't make any money from light rail, so it's useless to them. Dudes driving SUVs who are willing to pay $25 for a parking spot? That's useful.
- The last-ditch Minneapolis proposal suggests that the politicians in Hennepin County overvalue what they bring to the table. Despite what Rybak and his pals said, the plan they proffered wasn't serious in the least. It had the vibe of a guy checking under the couch cushions looking for enough money to buy a pack of smokes.
- I would assume that the Minneapolis politicians will now do everything in their power to sandbag the Arden Hills proposal. Let's just say this: that would be a big mistake.