New authority to oversee NFL stadium

Published 6:00 am Monday, May 28, 2012

ST. PAUL (AP) — Their job will be to keep construction of a $975 million Minnesota Vikings stadium on budget. They will hammer out details of a 30-year lease binding the team to Minnesota for another generation and turn the lights on in a new arena as it hosts everything from high school sports tournaments to monster truck jams.

Five appointed members will make up the new Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, holding sway over the massive public investment at the downtown Minneapolis site of the Metrodome. Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak have until mid-June to name the members, in a decision Dayton described last week as “the first and very important responsibility” in turning the stadium deal into a 65,000-seat reality.

Dayton will name the chairman and two members, and Rybak appoints the other two.

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The posts are not likely to be high-profile. But the members have an important role in representing the public’s interest in a construction project with a $498 million taxpayer investment.

“These commissioners are not employees of the Vikings — they’re employees of the people of Minnesota,” said John Wade, a Rochester business leader who served as one of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s appointees to the Minnesota Ballpark Authority that oversaw Target Field construction.

Ballpark Authority Chairman Steve Cramer, who guided Target Field from a law on paper to a functioning facility at the other end of downtown Minneapolis, said the new authority’s power to approve construction spending gives it the last word if disputes arise. In the Twins’ case, the team managed construction but no bills were paid without the authority signing off.

“We had the ability to stop the thing in its tracks,” Cramer said.

Cramer, a Minneapolis-based housing developer, said the ballpark group never blocked a payment but its power to do so led to “many, many hard conversations about what’s going on here to avoid being in that position.”

For instance, Cramer said one snag in the $545 million Target Field project was the unexpected $3 million to $4 million extra to fulfill the Legislature’s intent to build the stadium in an environmentally sustainable fashion.

“In the context of a half-billion-dollar project, it seems like not much. But when you’re at the negotiating table and everybody’s saying, ‘We put $230 million in.’ ‘Oh yeah? Well, we put $130 million in.’ And three or four million turns out to be a big issue,” Cramer said.

Eventually the authority came up with an extra $1.5 million and the team added some more to conform to a set of environmental standards. Cramer said the Twins ended up spending more than $50 million above their original commitment of $130 million to cover extra costs including land acquisition and construction upgrades.

The Vikings stadium cleared its last political hurdle Friday with Minneapolis City Council approval. Dayton and Rybak, both Democrats, drove the deal to completion. Now they will shape, through their appointments, how the stadium is built and run.

Former state Rep. Barb Sykora, who serves on the ballpark authority, urged Dayton to look to greater Minnesota as he selects members for the Vikings authority. Sykora, a Republican from Excelsior, said she is the only suburbanite overseeing Target Field after Dayton replaced Pawlenty’s two appointees; the other members live in Minneapolis or St. Paul.

“The Vikings are really very much a statewide team,” Sykora said. “People watch them from all over.”

Members of the new authority can see the Vikings’ finances but are required by law to keep it private. The new entity will absorb the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which will be abolished.

Dayton appointee Ted Mondale heads the commission and has served as the governor’s top aide on the stadium issue.

The authority will deal with a huge construction project involving architects, contractors, utilities, a light-rail line, city streets and other partners.

The law allows the group to decide whether to oversee design and construction or let the team do so. If the team takes over, the authority is prohibited from covering cost overruns. If the authority runs the project, it’s required to find a construction team that will cover overruns. The law also caps the public contribution to construction at $348 million for the state and $150 million for the city.

The money comes from state taxes on new electronic pull-tab and bingo gambling in bars and redirecting city taxes originally imposed to pay off the Minneapolis Convention Center. The team will bring $477 million in private money, including proceeds from the sale of stadium naming rights and an anticipated NFL contribution.

Sen. Julie Rosen, a Republican from Fairmont who sponsored the stadium bill, said the authority would have to move quickly to open the stadium by 2016.

“It’s game on,” she said. “They have to get to work.”