By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
What Zygi Wilf and company "require" is the NFL equivalent of the Taj Mahal: a Minnesota version of Indianapolis's Lucas Oil Stadium, the opulent temple constructed for the hometown Colts that opened just prior to the 2008 NFL season. At the time, it was the most expensive football stadium ever built, but the building's whopping $720 million price tag has since been surpassed by the $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium that opened in 2009 and the $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium, now known as MetLife Stadium, that opened in 2010.
Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of this year's Super Bowl, is an enormous, spaceship-like glass-and-brick structure, covering over 1.8 million square feet (twice the size of the Metrodome) and rising nearly 300 feet against the city skyline. Thanks to the state-of-the-art retractable roof and moveable "window wall," the building "can be opened to truly give the spectator the feeling of being at an outdoor stadium." Weather permitting, of course.
The 63,000 seat, seven-level, multi-purpose facility is replete with every amenity money can buy, including seven locker rooms, 1,000 flat-screen plasma TVs, more than 160 concession stands, 1,400 toilet fixtures located strategically in several corridors, and the crown jewel: 137 luxury suites, where the going price of rentals ranges from $40,000 to $235,000.
To hear the Vikings tell it, however, their proposed version of this building is "a very modest stadium that has a lot of potential; we...'skinnyed' things down and tried to make it fit Minneapolis." At least this is the line that CFO Poppen fed the Legislature when he testified in December at a joint hearing of the Senate's Tax and State Government committees.
What the Vikings don't talk about is why only an extravagant $830 to $895 million facility (excluding infrastructure) will meet their current demands. After all, the New England Patriots have four Super Bowl appearances and two NFL championships to their credit since the $340 million Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, while the Pittsburgh Steelers have managed to win two of the three Super Bowls they've appeared in since becoming tenants of the $281 million Heinz Field, which opened in 2001. Like Lambeau Field in Green Bay, both of these structures are open-air facilities.
NFL stadiums have skyrocketed in price over the past decade because no one other than club officials exerts control over the size and scope of a project. The team simply gives the prospective host community a price, then sits back and watches the elected officials scramble to find the money.
In Minnesota, it's been no different. Governor Dayton, Ted Mondale, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, and other headline-seeking politicos have been running interference for the Vikings, and nobody is attempting to broker a deal in the people's interest.
"Austerity" may be the buzzword in Europe and Washington, D.C., but when it comes to financing a new stadium, no revenue source is ever off limits. And come the end of the process, it's almost always the public that pays the freight.
There are some notable exceptions. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who acquired both the team and its outdated stadium for $172 million in 1994, spent years trying to win public support for a new facility. Like the Vikings, he pitted various communities against one another, pursuing a "three-state" strategy that involved the cities of Hartford, Boston, and Providence. After fierce neighborhood opposition in all of the locations, combined with overstretched state budgets, Kraft eventually decided to foot the construction costs himself. (The state of Massachusetts provided infrastructure improvements valued at $72 million.) Kraft later developed land he bought adjacent to the stadium into the $350 million Patriot Place entertainment complex. Today the Patriots are valued at $1.5 billion.
Not every team owner has deep pockets like Kraft's, but that didn't stop the San Francisco Giants from building AT&T Park, universally regarded as one of the finest outdoor baseball venues. In the mid-1990s, after four failed public referenda, the team's new ownership group decided that the only way forward was to partner with the community. The Giants spent two years meeting with local leaders, business executives, and residents to develop a private financing model, which led to an unprecedented commitment of business resources and fan participation that enabled the team to raise enough money to build the $315 million project largely on its own. (The public ended up providing a $15 million tax abatement and transit improvements costing $80 million.)
Twenty Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Minnesota, and last year they produced revenues in excess of $439 billion. They include United Health Group, Target, Best Buy, 3M, Medtronic, and General Mills—companies that generated more than $268 billion in annual revenues. Given that it is these same corporations that lease the luxury suites, buy the premium seats, and overwhelmingly use sporting events to entertain clients or reward employees, why shouldn't they be expected to provide the cash to pay for the Vikings' new digs?
After all, it was the leaders of the business community, under the auspices of a group known as the "Minutemen," that raised the funds to build Met Stadium in the 1950s, paving the way for the Washington Senators to become the Twins and the NFL to award an expansion football franchise that became the Vikings.