Vikings pumping yet more money into their new home

Published 5:18 pm Saturday, December 19, 2015

By Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio News

The Minnesota Vikings got the green light Friday to put even more cash into the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium.

These are big numbers: The new stadium under construction in Minneapolis will cost more than $1 billion, and taxpayers are footing $498 million of that. When the stadium deal was made three years ago, that was the biggest share of the project’s funding. The Vikings’ portion was a smaller $477 million.

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The team’s contribution has since grown by 31 percent, and it’s poised to approach $630 million by this summer. The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority on Friday approved $50 million in new private financing, which Executive Director Ted Mondale said will help fund a long list of extras.

“For instance, the ship,” he said. “Maybe the bridge.”

He was referring to the ceremonial boat planned for the plaza outside the stadium and a pedestrian bridge to keep people off nearby light rail tracks.

Mondale supports the new agreement.

“This gives the team more flexibility to put more money in the project in ways that we normally haven’t done,” he said.

With a grand opening planned for July, there isn’t time to spend a lot more money on the project. But the Vikings might well pay $150 million more than the state had asked.

That has some critics asking whether Minnesota taxpayers could have paid less.

“What can you say?” said state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes. “We told you so.”

Chamberlain voted against the bill allowing public spending for the stadium in 2012, when the Vikings were threatening to move the team to Los Angeles. “There was more money out there,” he said, adding that the state could have driven “a harder bargain.”

Chamberlain said there actually wasn’t any danger of the team leaving Minnesota.

“Did we get ripped off? Yes,” he said. “And it wasn’t the fault of the Wilfs (the owners) or the Vikings organization. It’s solely on the shoulders of those who supported it, voted for it, passed it.”

Michele Kelm-Helgen, who helped write the stadium law as part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s staff — and who now chairs the stadium authority — said it wasn’t a bad deal.

“I honestly look at it as just the reverse,” she said. “I think that we’ve actually gotten far more benefits from the Vikings than we originally anticipated.”

She said the stadium is nicer than originally designed, it has already booked a Super Bowl and a Final Four, and it could have nearly twice the lifespan of the Metrodome.

“Their putting additional money into the building is giving us a better building, No. 1, and No. 2, protection against having to make significant cuts in order to keep the kind of facility that we’d originally designed as construction costs go up,” she said.

And, she pointed out, taxpayers own the place — as well as all the stuff the Vikings are buying for it.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the public is getting more than it bargained for, like a new Wells Fargo headquarters nearby, a new hotel, a two-block downtown park and a renovated Minneapolis Armory, to say nothing of thousands of construction jobs.

“This was a very fair deal for the private and public sectors,” he said.

But as the final numbers come in, it’s clearer than ever that this wasn’t the deal anyone expected.