Holding a public hearing at the New Brighton Community Center, stadium opposition got their own two minutes of fame – largely outnumbering stadium supporters in their droning refrain that they shouldn't be on the hook to partner on a Vikings stadium. From retirees to stay-at-home moms, the group was diverse in those regards.
While an important meeting in the strict legal sense – approval to put the Arden Hills stadium project on the 2012 election ballot could potentially derail a special session – the public hearing became a chance for those without a voice to let themselves be heard. As expected, angry people tend to respond more than those in favor of a decision. The anti-stadium zealots got their two minutes to vent to a non-elected group of charter commissioners that had never seen a camera crew show up to one of their meetings.
You can't blame those that came out in opposition of the stadium proposal. If they're not football fans, why should they be taxed for a stadium that would employ hundreds, if not thousands, of their fellow Ramsey County citizens? Let's ignore that the county's $300 million contribution would be more than matched in the income that unemployed construction workers and the ancillary craftsmen would be paid (and pay taxes on). Let's forget that the "Garden Spot" of the Twin Cities metro area – an abandoned piece of property that served as a hub of commerce during the Cold War – would remain a diseased, pocked clump of ground with grass growing in the concrete. Nothing sells more in terms of the charm of Arden Hills like a piece of property abandoned by the government. How bad does property have to be when the government says, "Ah, screw it?" Let's forget that there is clear empirical evidence that supports that any tax cost to the "average" resident of Ramsey County will be made up by reduced property taxes when factored in with a "big fish" joining the pond.
Let's forget all of these things. The simple reality is that a quasi-political dog-and-pony show (it's only a political dog-and-pony show if those conducting the show are elected officials) can have enough impact to bring any stadium progress to a standstill.
While it can be contended that the legislators that shake hands and kiss babies at parades in towns with no stop lights could use a potential ballot amendment as reason enough to take the "high road" to get off the hook, Wednesday's meeting served no real political function.
For those plugged into the hierarchy of how "bidness" (behind-closed-door business) gets done, there is an undercurrent of the belief that the Farmer's Market site near Target Field in Minneapolis will be the final destination of a Vikings stadium. For that to happen, the Arden Hills site has to die. Wednesday's circus was a chance for those invested – financially and politically, in any order – to put up yet another roadblock to a stadium deal getting done and do a Riverdance of joy. Wednesday was a success … sort of.
The point that seems to be missed is that the State of Minnesota has delayed and denied funding a stadium for the Twins or Vikings and, fortunately for them, Hennepin County served as an admirable wingman at a crucial time. They did a brother a solid. The state told the Vikings it needed a wingman. Tony Bennett and his Ramsey County crew stepped up. It was only after an elected body of officials actually stood shoulder to shoulder with an economic wingman that the Ramsey County Charter had a half-inch of dust blown off it and was brought to the light of day.
A second hearing is expected to be held before the Met Council releases its projections for a post-construction Arden Hills that can be anticipated. One can only assume that a stadium would be healthier than a munitions plant site with contaminated soil. A similar anti-stadium crowd will show up at the next meeting. We've seen that movie already. Sequels rarely exceed the original.
It seems as though the myopic are winning the war. The problem is that their myopia doesn't see the bigger picture. In a tough economy, any state, city or county needs to have an asset they can count on for tax revenue. Investing in the NFL is like investing in gold. It will never – ever – bottom out. In terms of a business investment, the NFL is a gravy train driving on biscuit wheels. Those who are trying to torpedo the Arden Hills effort foolishly believe that the Wilfs and the Vikings will accept a "take this" offer to build a stadium on the Farmer's Market property in Minneapolis.
In its current state, the NFL doesn't have to take lip from anyone. It has the sway to give an Edward J. Robinson type paintbrush slap to the face of anyone who gets in its way. Ever notice what happened to cities in the 1990s like Baltimore, St. Louis, Cleveland and Houston that lost NFL teams? They spent through the nose to get Big Daddy back. They all did. There are no such guarantees for the Vikings.
On Jan. 2, the Minnesota Vikings become unrestricted free agents – technically, their Metrodome lease automatically re-ups, but no legitimate court ruling would say the Vikings are still the domain of Minnesota. As such, they can listen to offers – exclusively from Los Angeles, where a stadium got fast-tracked Monday. They have been more than willing to give Minnesota a home-town discount – if a stadium deal gets done in Arden Hills, the Wilfs will have invested more than $1 billion in the team and its home, much less paying their players. They've done their part. Every hurdle put in front of them has been passed. It would be ironic if a non-elected commission of symbolic importance only turns out to be the "Bridge Out" sign that brings the stadium chase to an end.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.