Stadium Task Force endorses two new sports stadiums

by Justin Ware

The Stadium Task Force’s recommendation last Tuesday to construct two stadiums is thrusting hope back into the agendas of Minnesota’s financially ill football and baseball programs.

The recommendation suggests the construction of two stadiums – one for the Twins and another for the Vikings and Gopher football teams to share – to be financed through taxes and fees on the facility’s users and fans, as well as those who economically benefit from professional sports.

A 6.5 percent sports memorabilia tax and a 9 percent tax on stadium beverages are examples of other possible funding sources.

The recommendation is pumping promise into the troubled prospects of all three teams.

It comes on the heels of a recent announcement that University athletics programs generate less money than most other Big Ten schools.

Under the departments’ current financial structure, the University must subsidize its athletics at a cost of more than $10 million per year throughout the next five years.

“Our escalating subsidies can be attributed to four major areas,” said Tonya Moten Brown, vice president and chief of staff for University intercollegiate athletics, at December’s Board of Regents meeting.

Brown said the four areas include debt service, administrative support, fund raising and football.

Football’s revenue growth from 1997 to 2001 was $2.7 million, making the program last in the Big Ten in net profits, she said.

After the meeting, University President Mark Yudof said the University would be happy to share a stadium – but not the cost – with the Vikings.

“The University is not ready to put money to a new stadium,” Yudof said.

And it’s the best news the Twins have heard all year.

During the last legislative session, the line of opponents to stadium bills was long and their minds were stubborn.

“We do believe there has been a dynamic shift in public support around the state,” said Dave St. Peters, Twins senior vice president of business operations. “But make no mistake, we are still a long way from a stadium.”

St. Peter said the task force’s report is consistent with the Twins’ views surrounding stadium issues.

“I think in this proposal we’ve given enough revenue sources to get this done,” said task force member Dean Barkley.

Introducing a new scratch-off lottery game and a tax on airport rental cars are also funding options detailed in the recommendation.

“Quite frankly, we pay for (car rental taxes) in Phoenix and Denver,” Barkley said, “Why not reciprocate?”

Lester Bagley, Vikings stadium consultant, said the recommendation is consistent with the team’s belief that a new stadium doesn’t have to come at the expense of the average taxpayer.

“The person who does not want to pay for the stadium will not pay for it,” Bagley said.

But he said he feels optimistic about the partnership with the University for a stadium.

“It works for both the Vikings and the Gophers,” he said.

While the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission maintains Metrodome renovation is a possibility, stadium advocates say a refurbished Dome won’t solve the teams’ financial woes.

St. Peter and Bagley said there are still many obstacles on the way to a new stadium, but they each feel this is the best idea yet.

“I think there’s a 50-50 shot,” Bagley said, “And we’ll take those odds.”

Justin Ware welcomes comments at [email protected]