St. Paul is kidding itself with NHL bid

by By Ron

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — OK, here’s the deal. The NHL is not coming to St. Paul. Never. Won’t happen. Forget about it.
In fact, here’s a safe bet you can make with anyone duped by all the rhetoric that has marked the unofficial start of Norm Coleman’s gubernatorial campaign.
Tell them that if St. Paul gets an NHL franchise you’ll personally buy every luxury suite in the building. That essentially is what the city of St. Paul has done to keep this farce alive.
Let’s be honest. You’d have as good a chance of paying for 100 luxury suites as St. Paul does of building a new $130 million arena while the market already has a wonderful hockey arena in downtown Minneapolis.
There has to be something for you in this wager, too. The dunderhead who takes the bet must agree that when Norm’s nonsense finally falls apart, you get a luxury box for one full season at the new Twins stadium. Which might, by the way, be in St. Paul.
Look, this is no knock on St. Paul as a potential home for a major professional franchise. It always has been perplexing to a relative newcomer to Minnesota that none of the state’s major teams play on the east side of the Mississippi River. Sharing the wealth, both literally and figuratively, would be a good move for the Twin Towns.
But it isn’t going to happen. Hey, even Norm has cooled off a little. He’s still flashing that pretty gap-toothed grin whenever and wherever he can, but he’s hedging ever so slightly.
On Monday, when the St. Paul City Council approved a funding deal that would pay for the arena even if That Darn Arne (you know him as our governor) backs out on his promise of $65 million in next year’s bonding bill, Norm said the city had “an A-plus chance” of getting a team.
On Wednesday, while the NHL owners huddled on the subject with no decision expected, Norm was whistling a softer tune.
“We have done everything we can do,” he said.
Um, Mr. Mayor, you sounded a whole lot more sure of yourself a couple days ago.
“That’s very perceptive,” he said. “The decision is out of our hands now. There’s no doubt this should happen, but there’s no guarantee this will happen.”
It won’t, but that’s getting repetitious by now, isn’t it? Here’s why:
1) Two words: Target Center.
The West Bank power brokers already got one hockey building (the parking lot formerly known as Met Center) demolished to make sure there was nowhere else for an NHL team to play. Don’t think they’ll stand for a new competitor going up in (gasp) St. Paul.
According to Norm, economics rule out the Target Center.
You’ll recall when Richard Burke was trying to bring the Winnipeg Jets to Minneapolis that he saw a revenue shortfall of as much as $10 million a year operating a hockey team alongside the Timberwolves. The idea was that Wolves owner Glen Taylor — who was visibly absent at nearly every meeting on the Jets deal — already had cornered the market on the suite, concession and signage revenue in the building.
That’s probably true, but don’t rule out Taylor as an NHL owner. He could operate two franchises side by side without doubling his overhead.
2) St. Paul’s funding plan remains dubious. The city has agreed to a deal that would allow them to pay for the arena even without the state’s $65 million commitment. But the idea of the state backing out clearly makes Norm nervous.
“The state needs to be full partners,” he said.
With the more important issue of a Twins stadium likely to still be around in the 1998 legislative session, it’ll be tough political work to justify another $65 million for a team that doesn’t exist.
3) Big West Bank money won’t support an East Bank franchise.
Things have changed, Norm said. The Twin Towns don’t dislike each other as much as they used to, and the ownership group put together by Robert Naegle represents both sides of the river. Still, Norm pointed out in the next breath that the east metro area recently touched 1 million people. He clearly is sensitive to the importance of West Bank support.
A larger issue is whether the NHL will come back to Minnesota no matter which city the team calls home. One opinion, and probably a good one, is that the Twin Cities can’t support four pro teams. But subtraction always is possible with the Twins and Vikings claiming poverty.
So don’t buy any of this talk about the NHL coming to St. Paul. Ain’t gonna … well, you get the point.