Where and How Much?

Where and How Much?

A solution to the Vikings stadium question.

To: Ted Mondale
      Chair, Minnesota
      Metropolitan Sports
      Facilities Commission

Dear Chair Mondale:

The Romans had it lucky: They built a stadium and it lasted for 2,000 years. We, on the other hand, build them, tear them down, and replace them every 30 years. Football stadia seem to be particularly peripatetic—the University of Minnesota has crossed the river twice to construct stadia within which to play. In fact, outside my office window, one can see two stadia that the NFL played in just last season. We are writing you to address building a third stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.

Whether to build. Those of us who’ve grown up in this state know the difference between being a “major league” destination and merely—to steal a quote—a “cold Omaha.” We are a media-driven culture, and if you’re not constantly in the media, you’re not part of the culture. The question is not if, but where and how much.

Where. The center of the economic engine of this state is Minneapolis. Minneapolis is exactly where the Vikings have played football for the last 30 years. Arden Hills is, from a fan-base and media perspective, the middle of nowhere.

You’re also not going to build a football stadium right next to the Basilica. By the football logic that prohibits a Sunday-playing professional team from sharing a facility with a Saturday-playing university team, one cannot put a raucous Sunday activity in close proximity to a prayerful Sunday activity.

The only practical objection to the obvious solution of rebuilding the Metrodome is that the Vikings would have to play at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota for at least two seasons. As an aside, it was a colossal failure of political leadership and vision to have allowed TCF Bank Stadium to be built without solving the Vikings stadium issue by the construction of a single venue. This would have followed the common-sense dictum: one sport, one stadium. Nevertheless, here we are with at least one too many football stadia. The Vikings should play at TCF while the Metrodome is being rebuilt.

Because all pro football games are ticketed events, the serving of adult beverages to ticket holders should not pose an obstacle to the university’s policy of not serving alcoholic beverages during (Saturday) U of M football games. Wine tastings and other private events have been held at TCF Bank Stadium where adult beverages have been available to ticket holders already.

How to pay. Having major pro sports teams and facilities in Minnesota is an advantage for the entire state and should be paid for as such. We have a working precedent that the individual pro sport team involved pays for approximately 30–40 percent of the entire cost of its facility, the rest of the money coming from public taxing authorities.
A major football stadium for the Vikings will cost almost $1 billion if constructed on the Metrodome site. Published reports and quick math will show that, at today’s low-interest rates, $40 million a year from the public would easily build the facility. But that would be a piecemeal and unsatisfying solution leading to a continuation of our patchwork of sports facilities.

Think big. There should be a new Sports Facilities Commission which has control over all publicly financed sports facilities (including TCF Stadium). This would allow for intelligent operational and fiscal oversight of these facilities; the public has paid for them, the public owns them, and the public ought to run them. It would also eliminate the costly competition for entertainment events that deprives many of these facilities from making a reasonable profit.

The implication of this proposal is that Target Center needs to be redesigned, there are changes that the Twins wish to make to Target Field, Xcel Energy needs financial relief, and TCF Bank Stadium could use more amenities and better parking. If the state is serious about first-class facilities, all of these matters can be accomplished, and they can be done under the oversight of one statewide governing group.

A statewide sales tax should be the source of revenue to pay the public’s portion of these improvements. A basic advantage to a statewide sales tax is that it falls proportionately on those communities and those customers in closest proximity to the enhanced sports facility. Gambling proceeds—shorn of the issue of who is really the victim (the tribes or bettors)—are not a stable source of funding. Considering the prospect of international online gambling, they are not even a revenue source with a likely future.

The governor has done what a governor should do: established a firm deadline and made people meet it. It is now time for you and the legislature to follow through in the best interest of the State of Minnesota by putting all sports facilities under one public authority, building a new Vikings home where their old home currently is, and funding all of those improvements with a Minnesota-wide sales tax.

Vance K. Opperman,
A Sports Fan


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