Commentary: The Best Stadium Plan

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission unveiled the best plan yet for the community and the Vikings, even if it does have a daunting price tag associated with it. In fact, it might not suit every single wish of the Vikings, but it is the best solution for all involved.

If one is the loneliest number, as Three Dog Night suggest, the new stadium proposal for the Vikings that includes nearly a $1 billion price tag could leave them lonely when it comes time to find state politicians ready to back their plan in the next week or two.

But, frankly, this is the best plan for all involved.

While two of the three financing partners was in place and public investment wasn't as high with the proposed version in Anoka County last year, there were some major flaws there, in this observer's opinion. Two big ones stand out. First, it wasn't located in either downtown St. Paul or downtown Minneapolis, which means the transportation infrastructure wasn't readily available and could have added to fans' frustrations with getting to Vikings games in a timely manner and finding food and lodging options within a reasonable distance. The second major problem was that it didn't include a retractable roof.

The Vikings aren't the ones asking for a retractable roof – they'd rather play in an open-air stadium – but if the public is being asked to support a bill with more than $100 million of public investment, then the public should be able to use the facility year-round whenever the Vikings aren't playing there, and the Vikings' use is only 10 games a year plus playoffs.

No roof would mean no Final Four, no concerts or other large attractions for at least the five coldest months, and certainly no Super Bowl. If this is a public investment, which it certainly can be, then a roof should be a necessity. The Vikings don't want a fixed roof, and, while a retractable roof adds about $200-$250 million to the price tag, it is only about $50 million more than a fixed roof, according to estimates from those in the know.

Instead of building a structure on the cheap, as was done with the Metrodome, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission is finally taking the right approach – working with the team for a product that both can be proud of for decades to come. If a Vikings stadium-solution bill ever gets passed in the state legislature, this would be the right one. But for that to happen, the public will have to get past the $1 billion figure and look at the potential.

First, this agreement would bind the Vikings to Minnesota for another 30 years after their lease with the Metrodome expires in 2011. With a rapidly rising NFL salary cap of $109 million per team in 2007, that is a hefty amount of tax dollars going into the state coffers each year on income taxes along. That doesn't take into account the tax money that will be generated around the new stadium from food, lodging and merchandise – and those taxes will certainly be included as part of any new bill.

The financial considerations, according to the MSFC, total $953,916,000. That is $616,564,000 for the stadium's "hard and soft costs," $200,729,000 for the retractable roof, $58,130,000 for parking development, $8,892,000 for 5th Street right of way land costs and an estimated escalation in costs of $69,601,000 if construction doesn't start until 2010.

The debate over a Vikings stadium has been going since the mid-1990s, and the stadium would have cost about half of this five or six years ago, according to estimates from Vikings officials and early versions put out publicly. Further delay would only increase the costs, yet there is little chance of getting a bill passed this legislative session because there is currently no public funding mechanism in play.

Indianapolis is planning to open its new retractable-roof stadium in 2008 with an estimated cost of $675 million. Dallas is planning to open is retractable roof stadium in 2009 with a $932 million price tag.

Yes, the state could get by for about $200 million cheaper with an open-air stadium that Vikings owners actually prefer. But for a Vikings stadium plan to make sense for the entire community, this is the one to grab onto – even with a price tag approaching that lonely number.


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