Xcel Energy Center — home of the Minnesota Wild — could be in line for a makeover

Published 6:48 am Thursday, November 16, 2023

By Phil Picardi, Minnesota Public Radio News

The Vikings got a new home in 2016 with the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium. Target Center got a glow up for the Timberwolves a year later. Now, the Minnesota Wild are hoping its their turn, and there’s an indication the team could ask the state for money to revamp the Xcel Energy Center.

What’s the history of the Xcel Energy Center? What was the cost? And how does it all tie into the history of the North Stars leaving the state and the Wild coming to Minnesota?

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MinnPost Reporter Peter Callaghan told MPR News the Xcel Energy Center is “about a 23 year old arena, and it was built, I think, directly as part of the campaign to attract an expansion team from the National Hockey League a few years after the North Stars had departed to Dallas.”

“It was a combination of financing. It’s about a $160 million, $165 million building,” Callaghan said. “It was a $55 million loan from the state that was ultimately forgiven. And then the team put in $35 million and the city put in $65 million and they funded that with a both a TIF district, a tax increment financing district, where they took some of the new taxes generated around the area and a half-cent sales tax that they increased to cover the bonding debt.”

Have the Wild formally asked for money to renovate?

“Well, what’s formally, right? … The city [of St. Paul] still owns the building, still has some outstanding debt that it is paying on some of the original work, so it’ll probably come in a joint proposal between Mayor [Melvin] Carter and the team,” Callaghan said.

“There have been presentations. The ones I’m aware of [were made] to the governor’s office just a few weeks ago. And they met with Sen. Chandra Pappas, who is a St. Paul senator who is also the chair of the capital bonding committee.

“That’s the committee that would likely get a proposal, at least one of the committees that would get a proposal, so they’re more than introductory meetings. They are talking about what they consider the conditions of the building. But there has not been a formal proposal.”

There was a new lobbyist hired. Tell us about James Schowalter.

“As a regular part of covering state government, we take a look at lobbyist filings. So not just someone who’s newly becoming a lobbyist, but if a current lobbyist gets a new client, they have to register that,” Callaghan said.

“I saw this new registration at the end of October for James Schowalter, who had been Gov. Walz’s commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, which was the budget management office.

“We know him very well, because he’s the person who presents the budget forecasts and, certainly doing COVID, he was the one who we were talking to a lot about what was happening to state revenues. So he’s very well known. He also served in that role for Gov. Dayton.

“That’s a pretty big hire, just coming off the governor’s office in the middle of August… so that’s the name of someone who certainly knows the budget process, knows the players at the Capitol knows how that was a bonding proposal, knows how that works. So that was a pretty significant hire. And so that kind of put together with the fact that there had been a meeting on the government schedule about the same time to start asking questions.”

Has there been any reaction from lawmakers yet?

“There hasn’t been. Not that I have heard. Senator Papas said that her initial meeting with them made it seem as though it wasn’t imminent. But when she noticed the hiring of Schowalter, she said she got suspicious, so she put it, and she also kind of joked that when she thought that the proposal wasn’t coming this next session, she said maybe that was wishful thinking,” Callaghan said. “Generally, legislators don’t like these proposals, but then they vote for them, at least enough of them do because of the pressures that are brought under the threat of losing a team. “

“I would think hockey in the Twin Cities would have particularly fresh scars that would be making legislators somewhat reluctant to be the ones to blame for losing another team.

“But, you know, as recently as three years ago, Seattle has an expansion hockey team, the Kraken, and the ownership group paid for the entire renovation of an old building. And when I say renovation, I mean, they took it down to the studs, it’s an over $1 billion arena in Seattle that was paid for entirely by the investors in the team. So it’s, it’s gone both ways. And then across the state line, the state of Wisconsin is approving a half-billion dollar package to renovate the Brewers baseball stadium.”

The NHL surveyed Wild fans about what they want to see. Should the Xcel Energy Center get a makeover?

“Well, what they’re asking about is sort of what you would expect, you know. Do you want better event space before games? Do you want better bar space? One thing that I thought was interesting, which would suggest a fairly significant renovation: Do you like being able to keep an eye on the action from the concourses?”

“Think of games at CHS Field in St. Paul where you can kind of walk around the whole thing with your beer and still watch the game. They asked about that. So it’s the kind of things that are going on around professional sports. More bars, more clubs, more TVs, more food service in the seats, things like that.”