Public spending on Vikings Stadium continues to rise

By Mike Kaszuba

In May of last year, the Minnesota Vikings announced that the team was contributing another $14 million to its new $1.1 billion stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

It was the 11th time in a little over a year that the team had announced it was putting additional money into the controversial project.  In its May press release, the Vikings organization made sure to state that the team had now put more money into the project ($566 million) than the public ($498 million).

But documents obtained by Public Record Media, a St. Paul non-profit, show that the amount of public money has also moved upward – mainly through ancillary projects, both big and small, that have not been counted as part of the public’s official $498 million contribution.

Road re-route project

For instance, on the same day last May that the Vikings were trumpeting the team’s latest $14 million addition, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) documents show that the state agency was formally moving ahead with a $9.79 million project to re-route roadways near the new stadium and Interstate 94.

In a September, 2013 e-mail, MnDOT design project manager Ron Rauchle made clear that the roadway re-route was, in his words, being done “as part of the new Vikings stadium plan/project.”  The project’s formal purpose, according to agency documents, would be to “reconstruct and reorient the existing westbound I-94 exit to Minneapolis from 5th Street to 7th Street.  This project will involve the construction of a new lengthy bridge over Hiawatha Ave., north I-35W ramps and many ramps in the interchange area.”

Additional MnDOT documents detail other “nuts and bolts” expenses required by  the project, including $12,320 to remove a storm sewer pipe, $7,280 to remove curbs and gutters, and $1,100 to take down a chain link fence.

In explaining the need for the project, MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht told PRM that the money came from the state “Transportation for Economic Development program [which] lets us fund project[s] that might not otherwise be in our construction program.”

Additional projects, additional spending

The roadway re-route project is just one of several public expenditures that are not counted among the $498 million taxpayers are contributing to the stadium.

The Metropolitan Council, which operates the light rail line that moves past the new Viking stadium, is paying $4 million toward a $9.65 million pedestrian bridge that will connect the stadium to a nearby light rail station.   The Vikings are paying roughly $6 million for the bridge, but are expected to be reimbursed through advertising on the light rail line that will benefit the team.  Records show that this issue was raised at a May, 2015 meeting of the Met Council, as the project was being outlined by Metro Transit general manager Brian Lamb.  “Council members discussed this issue at length and had many questions for Lamb,” the documents stated, “including why the cost of the project was not being covered by the Vikings.”

In addition, a Metro Transit spokesman said that the agency is researching how much changing the name of the light rail station from the “Downtown East” station to the “US Bank Stadium” station is costing the public agency.  A request for the data was made by PRM.

“As I recall, [the cost of the name change to Metro Transit] was for some signage, updating some maps system-wide and maybe a voice-over for the announciators in the trains.  But pocket schedules and such had to be reprinted anyway because of schedule changes so there was no extra cost,” Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla wrote in an  April e-mail message.

As part of the name change, Metro Transit is receiving $300,000 worth of promotional efforts per year from the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority – the public agency that operates the stadium.  The outreach is intended to encourage stadium users to ride the nearby light rail (LRT) line.

The renamed US Bank Stadium LRT station has some recently-added features on display.  For instance, an image of the stadium – along with the Vikings’ logo – has been embedded in a sidewalk on the station’s platform, along with the words “U.S. Bank Stadium Inaugural Season — #WhereWePlay.”  Inside the station itself, a large TV monitor with revolving electronic messages displays the US Bank logo, along with the words “the power of possible.”

Other government costs

Ancillary spending on the Vikings stadium does not include the time and money local governments have spent on other minor, stadium-related projects.  For instance, in mid-December, Hennepin County entered into a 45-page lease with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority that allowed the owners of the stadium to use county-owned land near the project for event parking.  Under the agreement, the county will initially be paid roughly $282,000 a year, with four market rate adjustments scheduled between now and March 2046.

The complex lease – in which two public agencies exchange money to rent land to help make the Vikings stadium a reality – is a daunting read, with dense passages relating to termination options and reimbursements for “Unauthorized Improvement Costs.”

There have been other government-to-government negotiations related to the stadium as well.  Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis are still in the process of negotiating an agreement for a new bike lane easement to replace one that was displaced by the stadium.  Although the negotiations are continuing, a county spokesperson has claimed that Hennepin County will be paid for the easement by the city.  However, “the transaction has not been done,” according to county spokesperson Carolyn Marinan and “no money has changed hands.”

Scope of records on project spending

In December of 2015, PRM made its initial request to the Metropolitan Council for ancillary spending related to the Vikings stadium.  The agency then informed PRM that Metro Transit would instead be the responding agency.

In an e-mail message to PRM, Metro Transit’s Padilla said that the agency had as many as 87,000 e-mails relating to its involvement with the Vikings stadium project in Minneapolis, as well as a proposal to build a soccer stadium in St. Paul.  During an interview last week, Padilla said that the agency was still sifting through more than 60,000 e-mails related to the two projects.

“We’re moving to the process of examining any of the information for redaction for purposes of adhering to state statutes.  As you can imagine, this will take some time,” Padilla wrote.

The City of Minneapolis has not yet responded to a similar request for ancillary spending data that PRM made in mid-December of 2015.