Minnesota Vikings Stadium Plan: Saddle Taxpayers With $1 Billion Field

Minnesota Vikings Promise Nothing, Saddling Taxpayers With $1 Billion Stadium Bill

Here's one way a Republican presidential candidate might gain more votes in Tuesday's Minnesota caucuses: Promise citizens they won't have to pay for the Minnesota Vikings' new football stadium.

A fifth plan for a $1 billion stadium in downtown Minneapolis emerged Monday, with taxpayers shouldering a large chunk to aid a privately owned NFL team that hasn't had a winning season in two years and has never won a Super Bowl. The state would be responsible for at least $340 million and Minneapolis for more than $300 million, according to estimates in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The Vikings are expected to fund about a third of any plan they approve, but the team hasn't pledged a dime on the latest project. They promised $425 million for an earlier proposal in the suburb of Arden Hills. That was several plans ago.

Despite state budget cuts in the stagnant U.S. economy, the push for new sports venues continues. Many will be built by digging into the wallets of taxpayers. The San Francisco 49ers are forging ahead with their own billion-dollar field of dreams in Santa Clara to replace Candlestick Park. They recently received a $200 million loan from the NFL to add to $850 million in loans from Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and others. A hotel tax and a redevelopment agency are supposed to pay part of the bill, with seat licenses and luxury box sales expected to figure heavily, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Stadium debates are also heating up in Atlanta and San Diego.

In Florida last month, Michael Bennett, a Republican state senator, became so disgusted with his state's already-built publicly funded stadiums that he tried to get authorities to enforce a 1988 law ordering the stadiums' teams to house the homeless on off nights. The Miami Marlins baseball team will begin playing in its new stadium in April, months after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating $500 in stadium bond sales.

From 2000 to 2008, taxpayers contributed $5 billion of the $9 billion used to build 28 major league stadiums, according to a 2008 University of Utah study. That includes the $720 million Super Bowl site, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, a losing proposition for taxpayers, Bloomberg News reported.
In fact, most subsidized sports complexes are a bad deal for communities, the Utah study concluded. Harvard professor Judith Grant Long told Bloomberg that taxpayers shell out an average of 40 percent more than the original estimate of stadiums.

Minnesota state and city officials fear the Vikings will leave if they don't get their new stadium. Public opinion is tough to pin down because the city won't stage a referendum, even though the city charter requires one on stadium subsidies exceeding $10 million. Opponents are accusing municipal authorities of circumventing the law by placing sales tax revenue into a stadium authority that would spend the money.

The plan may also include so-called pull-tabs, a form of gambling in which bettors match images on slot-machine like cards.

The latest plan calls for a new stadium to be built next to the Vikings current stadium, the Metrodome. The plan wouldn't make the Vikings relocate to the University of Minnesota's 50,000-seat stadium for several years, losing an estimated $50 million a year.

Gov. Mark Dayton and other officials hope to solidify a plan to be voted upon by the state legislature this spring. But it's no guarantee. Key figures in the legislature and in the city council are said to be "lukewarm" on the project, the Star-Tribune said. The battle to break ground will likely be hard-fought.

Now that would be worth the price of admission.

A sentence was added to this article at 9:45 p.m. Feb. 7 to clarify that the Vikings would provide about a third of the financing for a stadium plan they approve.

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