Tom Powers: Vikings stadium debate is about to get pretty ugly
By Tom Powers
Updated: 05/11/2011 12:24:34 AM CDT
OK, let the name-calling begin!
Discussions about a long-term "Vikings solution" have been fairly civil to this point. That's all about to change. Now that an official partner has been selected in Ramsey County, the real fun starts. Both sides are about to begin going at each other hammer and tong. It's going to get ugly. After all, we've been to this dance before.
Stadium foes will equate the project with welfare for millionaires and somehow try to link the public dollars being spent on a football stadium to the plight of the homeless, an uptick in urban crime and deteriorating test scores in our elementary schools.
Stadium proponents will bellow that without a new facility the team will be gone in the blink of an eye. That the building and eventual operation of the facility will create much-needed jobs. And that Minnesota eventually will construct a new stadium, anyway. If not for the Vikings, then for the next NFL team. Because, as was the case after the North Stars left, people will realize that they really do want a team. And it will be more expensive then.
But whether the thing gets built boils down to one simple bit of politics. But let me begin by telling this related story.
I once had lunch with Morris Udall, who served Arizona in the House of Representatives from 1961-91. Udall also mounted a serious bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. During that lunch, Udall told a story about a fellow politician running for local
On election night, it became clear that this fellow was not going to win and that he would have to give a concession speech at his hotel headquarters. Upset by the outcome, he stepped up to the lectern, tears in his eyes.
According to Udall, this gentlemen signaled for quiet among his supporters, dabbed his eyes, cleared his throat and began:
"The people have spoken...The bastards!"
Udall slapped the table and guffawed at the retelling. Yet there is an underlying message there. It applies to the Vikings stadium project. Keep the people out of it. Never in the history of the world have people voted to tax themselves in any way, shape or form. So referendums are silly.
It all comes down to political guts, one way or the other. It is the job of elected officials to decide how to spend our money, to figure out what is a good deal and what is a bad deal. It's cowardly to try to pass off tough decisions on an already polarized constituency. They have to decide whether this is right for the state and then act accordingly. Then they'll be graded during the next election.
They have to smile and nod politely at all the noise being generated and just go about their business. Keep the people at arm's length. It worked for the Twins, who got Target Field without any sort of public vote. It could work for the Vikings. My tax dollars already go to a lot of crap that I don't care about. But nobody asked me if it was OK. No sense asking now.
We aren't consulted on public works projects or funding for the arts or tax breaks for certain businesses. This is no different. Take a position and go for it. Is it a good deal?
I know this much: It's a complicated deal, and the devil is in the details. Vikings ownership says it will commit $407 million. That's more than I ever thought they would. However, the notion of this being a "publicly owned" stadium is absurd. The Vikings will control the stadium, the revenue and, I'm sure, the surrounding land.
For developers such as Zygi Wilf and the entire Wilf family, the Arden Hills site represents a once-in-a-lifetime blank canvas with endless revenue-producing possibilities. Whatever land isn't given to them as part of the deal, they will buy. Arden Hills could turn into Wilfville. Maybe that's a good thing. Who knows?
OK, elected officials, get to work. Figure it out. Fund it or don't fund it, depending on whether you think it's good for Minnesota. And don't bother us until you've finished your job with regards to this matter.
Tom Powers can be reached at email@example.com.