Why It's Now Or Never for a Vikings Stadium

Josh HewittContributor IMay 1, 2010

Rewind to January of this year. The press and politicians thought we were crazy to start a stadium movement to keep the Vikings in Minnesota . Talk of state deficits dominated conversations and the advocates put in charge of protecting professional sports in Minnesota (Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission ) themselves were throwing in the white towel and insulting those that thought otherwise.

We have come along way since January. Light is at the end of the tunnel, and a resolution is within our reach. But we still have a short sprint to cross the finish line.

With talk of a stadium bill hitting the floor the week of May 3rd , we are backed into a corner and running out of time.

Last week, Rep. Tom Hackbarth attempted to attach the Racino bill to the Agriculture bill, which would have allocated $60 million a year to a Vikings stadium and Saints stadium. It failed miserably, as it was ruled non-germane.  Racino will live to fight another day, but not as a funding vehicle for a Vikings stadium.

I also recently had the chance to sit down with Rep. Hackbarth and RacinoNow’s chief lobbyist, former Senate minority leader Dick Day . They both expressed concern that if the Vikings don’t get it done this year, they won’t get it done ever (Video Here ). 

That leaves the bill Senator Bakk is working on. Details aren’t clear, but the summary of the bill is this: User based. If you go to the games, support the team, by a jersey, buy concessions, etc., you will pay for it. It has been publicly stated that Sen. Bakk is looking for a community to partner with . When it comes to financing, Minneapolis isn’t looking to pony up.

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City Council Commissioner Barb Johnson says, “We consider the Vikings an important resource in Minneapolis. We value that; we also value the money people spend here.”

An idea that has been frequently suggested is that the Vikings pay the debt service for the first 10 years, and then to redirect the tax that pays for the convention center towards the stadium. Mayor Ryback and Commissioner Johnson have other ideas.

“We’re very, very reluctant to see those dollars on the table,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, last week at the Capitol, Senator Rosen said he feels a community partnership will appeal to the Governor, and help get a bill signed by him. In fact, the Governor himself has said a Vikings bill this session “is possible” but unlikely.

In my meeting with Mayor Rybak yesterday, he once again suggested using the property value from the land the Metrodome sits on, and partnering with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf “to develop the land around it to help pay for the stadium.”

The issue with that is you would still need the capital to build the stadium itself. Beyond that the Mayor was reluctant to offer any financial contribution even though there is recent clear evidence the Vikings drive millions of dollars into Minneapolis on weekends.

With Minneapolis reluctant to partner, I reached out to former Vikings owner and Minneapolis business titan Wheelock Whitney , who committed to contacting the Governor and asking him to be more involved in getting this done in 2010.


Last week the Democrats nominated Margaret Anderson-Kelliher as their endorsed gubernatorial candidate. With her recent comments , and right-hand man, Senate majority leader Larry Pogemiller, asking Sen. Bakk if it can wait until next year, I believe we will be hard pressed to get a stadium deal done next session should Madam Speaker win the Governors office.

But what about Mark Dayton? Yes, Mark Dayton…running against Kelliher in the primary on the premise of “taxing the rich” . Think you will get public funding with him as Governor? Think again. This is a candidate who supports Racino, so long as not a cent is used for a Vikings stadium.

What about recent Republican endorsed gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer ? Emmer has told me directly he supports user-based models to finance a stadium. However, his choice of Lt. Governor Annette Meeks as a running mate rules out any opportunity for Racino to be used as a funding model if he is elected. Twice this year I have testified at state committee hearings on behalf of Racino as a funding model, only to have Mrs. Meeks testify against it. 

That put’s us right back to where we were in January, except with a state deficit that will be four times the size it is now and only one session remaining before the Vikings lease expires.

If we can’t get this bill passed with a $900 million deficit this year, it will be extraordinarily tough to pass a stadium bill on the projected $3-4 billion state deficit in 2011.

But then we have one more year right? 2012? Not really. By then the lease will expire, and there is a potential lockout coming because of the collective bargaining agreement that will be in negotiations.

Those are very real deal killers for the stadium bill anytime after 2010. And let’s not forget, if we don’t pass something this session, it shows the Majestic group of California that we have not taken legislative action and their license to hunt purple is re-instated.

Please email your legislature and please do it today. It is NOW OR NEVER!

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