Twins, Vikings question

by Mike Wereschagin

The Minnesota Twins are headed into the ninth inning, the Vikings are considering an audible and the state Legislature has taken a timeout, putting the Metrodome’s future in a haze.
Both professional sports teams who call the Dome home have started to look for something better, shrouding the 18-year-old stadium’s future in uncertainty.
The Metrodome is owned and operated by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission, though all its funding comes from the state Legislature, said Roger Simonson, MSFC finance director.
In view of concerns voiced by both Vikings and Twins officials, the MSFC conducted two studies: One explores remodeling the stadium to house only a baseball team, while the other looks at doing the same for a football team, Simonson said.
“We haven’t addressed what would happen if both (the Twins and Vikings) leave,” he added.
Though the commission’s latest ideas focus on keeping the Vikings in the Dome, the plans might be a moot point. No matter how hard the MSFC tries, their hands are monetarily tied.
“We are a political subdivision of the state Legislature,” Simonson said. “All funding decisions have to go through them.”
To add to the stadium’s woes, the Legislature has been unwilling to talk about funding options, he said.
“Funding issues for the stadium are a hot potato,” Simonson said. “Nobody wants to be the one to bring it up.”
Last November, the Twins campaigned for public funding for a new stadium in St. Paul. The funding would have come from a 0.5 percent sales-tax increase for St. Paul residents. Voters defeated the referendum 58 to 42 percent.
The Twins’ lease on the Metrodome runs out at the end of this year, though their contract provides for three one-year extension options.
However, taking advantage of those extra years might not be in the ball club’s best interests, said Dave St. Peter, the Twins’ senior vice-president of business affairs.
“Extending our options in the Metrodome is just postponing the inevitable,” he said.
The stadium is simply not large or modern enough to bring in the revenue the team needs to stay competitive, St. Peter said.
Although the Twins are not currently pushing for a new stadium, the issue will be brought back to the political forefront in 2001, he said.
A similar situation exists for the Vikings because of the Metrodome’s shortcomings.
“We’re maxed out,” said Lester Bagley, Vikings stadium consultant. “We sold out at every available opportunity, and we are still $13 million below the NFL average.”
If a solution is not found soon, the deficit will grow to an estimated $28 million annually by 2005, Bagley said.
Last June, the MSFC presented a Metrodome renovation plan to the Vikings, but it was rejected because it did not meet with Vikings program requirements.
To stay competitive, Vikings officials say the team needs 4,400 total seats and a 10 percent increase in the number of sideline seats.
The commission’s first proposal would have decreased total seating capacity by nearly 300 and slightly decreased the total number of sideline seats.
In response, the MSFC developed a new plan that would meet more of the Vikings’ requirements. The revised concept, announced Jan. 19, increased the Metrodome’s total seating from 64,000 to 69,000 and added 43 luxury suites, bringing the total number of suites to 155.
The main concern confronting the Vikings now is renovation cost, Bagley said. The new plan comes with a $226 million price tag, $66 million more than the prior proposal.
“They put a lot of work into this (proposal), and it is the best they can do,” Bagley said. “It certainly deserves a long hard look by the Vikings. The biggest question — not just for the Vikings but for the general public, too, is: Does it make sense to put $226 million into the Metrodome, which originally cost $55 million to build?”
Another option would be to build an entirely new stadium and leave the Metrodome.
Typically, 75 percent of funding for new NFL stadiums comes from the public. The remaining 25 percent is paid for by private investors and owners. Vikings owner Red McCombs is willing to emulate that scenario by putting up $100 million for a $400 million stadium.
But so far legislators have been unwilling to even discuss the issue, let alone send $300 million to the teams, Bagley said.
“We’ve talked to everyone,” Bagley said. “But the response we’ve gotten is basically … that it’s not a good year to go to the Legislature because it’s an election year.”
Bagley said they are continuing to patiently work with officials to solve the problem, but time is running out.
“The bottom line for Red McCombs is he believes that if the Twin Cities community wants an NFL franchise, they will have to participate in funding for their stadium,” Bagley said. “A solution to this needs to be found. The clock is ticking on a looming fiscal crisis.”

Mike Wereschagin welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3226.