Timberwolves agree to extend lease seven years in exchange for $48m in arena renovation subsidies

Last year’s announced plan to renovate the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ Target Center, which was already renovated once in 2004, has finally been finalized (the city council will vote on it two weeks from today), and it actually doesn’t look quite as bad as it did originally: The total cost is now down to $97 million (from an initial $150 million estimate), the team and city will roughly split the costs, and the T-Wolves have agreed to extend their lease from 2025 to 2032 as part of the deal. So on the bright side, you can say the city is spending about $7 million for each year of new lease, which is, um, better than it could be?

On the less bright side, the Timberwolves owners managed to extract this deal despite having more than a decade to run on their existing lease, simply by tagging along on the Vikings stadium deal and saying, “Hey, what about us?” So this doesn’t actually guarantee that Minneapolis won’t be asked to put in more money to the Target Center before 2032 — or, heck, to build a whole new arena. It’ll be more than 40 years old by then, after all, and arenas are required to be sent to the carousel after 30.

MN sports teams hate idea of taxing sports gear to pay for stadium, duh

Predictably, the Minnesota Vikings aren’t too happy with state representative Ann Lenczewski’s proposal to pay for the shortfall in stadium funds by taxing sports memorabilia sales, since that would mean they’d be paying the bills, not taxpayers. And that’s not what they agreed to at all:

“This legislation fundamentally changes the agreement the Vikings negotiated with the state of Minnesota,” said Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development, after a hearing on the bill in the House Taxes Committee.

The team put in an additional $50 million in the final stages of negotiation on the bill for the National Football League stadium, Bagley said, and “that commitment was in exchange for an assurance that there would be no further impacts on stadium revenues, including taxes on stadium revenues.”

And other Minnesota sports teams are even less happy with the plan, if possible:

Representatives of the Timberwolves, the Wild and the Twins testified against the bill, which one said essentially would require the teams to subsidize a competitor. A spokeswoman for state retailers spoke against the bill as well.

Still, it seems at least possible that some kind of memorabilia tax will be seriously considered by the legislature — the head of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority says it’s a good idea, and really, the state doesn’t have a lot of other options. And even if the Vikings are upset, would they really walk away from $1.1 billion worth of subsidies just for fear of losing a bit of money on memorabilia taxes?

Which is both the strength and the weakness of the proposal, by the way: It’s not actually expected to raise much money. Estimates are that the memorabilia tax would generate $6.8 million in its first year, while the funding gap from e-pulltabs is more like $50 million a year. So while this could help, it wouldn’t be a solution by any means. But at least it’s nice to see the legislature considering trying to make this deal better for the public, rather than just promoting compulsive gambling.

Renovating Target Center will now cost only $100m, maybe

Hey, here’s something new: a sports construction project where the price is actually going down. The planned renovation of the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ Target Center, originally estimated at $150 million when it was approved as part of the Vikings stadium package last spring, is now expected to cost only $100 million, according to Minneapolis city officials. (Mayor R.T. Rybak last week called the initial figure a “very general, quick thing” and the new estimate “a pretty good working number.”) For this, the city is expecting to build a new glass atrium, ad boards, new concourses, and — here, just look at the website.

In exchange, taxpayers are getting … well, nothing that I can tell, except to “restore [the arena's] competitiveness,” though given that the Target Center is one of the rare arenas that draws more than 200 events a year, it’s hard to see how much more competitive it could be. And the Timberwolves’ lease wasn’t up until 2025 regardless, and the team didn’t sign an extension in exchange for these latest improvements.

This will now be the third public expense on an arena that was built with private dollars back in 1990 (and done poorly, by at least one account), bailed out with public money in 1995, and renovated once already in 2004; I’d like to say it’ll be the last, but lord knows what will be needed to keep a building “competitive” in 2020. Holographic players, maybe.

Vikings plan to include get-out-of-vote-free card for Target Center reno

As if the Minnesota Vikings stadium plan weren’t complicated enough, now it appears that the state legislature will be voting on two bills as part of the proposal: One to help fund the stadium with electronic pulltab gambling revenues, which would also include a provision authorizing the city of Minneapolis to use existing taxes to renovate the Timberwolves‘ Target Center; the other to exempt Target Center spending from the $10 million cap on city sports stadium spending without a referendum that Minneapolis voters approved back in 1998.

Asked whether renovation of the Target Center is part of the stadium bill, lead author Sen. Julie Rosen helpfully explained, “It is, but it isn’t.”

While the Minneapolis Star Tribune seems fixated on this two-bills thing, the real news here is that the state plans to override the Minneapolis sports spending cap, at least for the Target Center portion. (State officials have already said that they don’t consider the city’s $339 million in Vikings spending to violate the cap, because it’ll be laundered through the state before the Vikings end up with it.) The Twins got a similar exemption from public referendum as part of their own stadium deal, but Gov. Mark Dayton had earlier indicated that the legislature wouldn’t do the same for the Vikings. For the T-Wolves, though, apparently that’s okay.

The big battleground here is shaping up to be the Minneapolis city council, where a majority of members say they won’t approve any of this mess without a public vote, which would almost certainly be overwhelmingly opposed to the deal. Expect major, major arm-twisting in the days ahead — this will be the test of whether the city councilmembers are actually taking a stand for the principle of allowing voters to vote on what the city charter says they get to vote on, or are just holding out for a better payoff.

St. Paul mayor: Everybody gets a new stadium!

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman entered the Minnesota Vikings stadium debate with a bang yesterday, issuing a complex plan to use local sales tax hikes and a statewide liquor tax to: build a Vikings stadium in Minneapolis, move the Timberwolves and Lynx to St. Paul’s XCel Center (which would receive $75 million in upgrades for the current tenants, the Wild), redevelop the Target Center, and build a new stadium for the minor-league baseball St. Paul Saints

…and the Vikings and the Wolves owners already hate the idea, and that’s before even getting into the problems getting approval for all those tax hikes. But at least Coleman got his name in the paper.

Minneapolis unveils $990 million Vikings-Wolves stadium-arena construction-renovation plan

And the Minneapolis plan for a Minnesota Vikings stadium is in. The highlights:

  • An $895 million domed football stadium on the site of the Metrodome (and, according to Reuters, “incorporat[ing] parts of the existing Metrodome”), plus a $95 million renovation of the nearby Target Center.
  • The state of Minnesota would contribute one-third, or $300 million, as a bill in the legislature has already proposed.
  • The city would kick in $195 million (22%), to be collected from a ticket tax, parking fees, restaurant and liquor taxes, a new 0.15% city sales tax, and the extension of taxes currently being used to pay off the city’s convention center.
  • The Vikings would pay $400 million (40%) of the stadium cost.

Clearly this plan faces a ton of hurdles: The state bill has to be passed by the legislature before it goes home on Monday. The city money would need a voter referendum for approval. And did I mention that Vikings execs hate the idea?

Lester Bagley, a Vikings’ vice president, said the Vikings appreciated the proposal but that a $400 million contribution was too much. He also noted that playing in the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium for three years while the new field was built would cost the Vikings $40 million in lost revenue.

“$440 million for the site does not work, and it’s not something we can support,” Bagley said. “Three parties need to negotiate a deal, and this does not accomplish that.”

Still, it’s got people talking about where to build a stadium, not whether to build one, and the Vikings owners have to be happy about that. If you’re in the Twin Cities and want to join the conversation, veteran MinnPost stadium reporter Jay Weiner is interviewing Minnesota stadium czar Ted Mondale next Monday night; tickets are $15. Hey, if 60 million people show up, maybe they can use the proceeds to build a stadium!

Minneapolis seeks $150m Target Center renovation

In yet another sign that sports stadiums and arenas are the gifts that keep on costing money, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is looking for $150 million in state money to renovate the Timberwolves‘ Target Center, which was built in 1990 and just renovated in 2004. The improvements this time around would include two large glass atriums, a new restaurant, and a complete remodeling of the inside to “make the building more attractive to traveling concerts and shows,” according to the Associated Press.

As for what’s in it for Minnesota to attract more traveling concerts and shows, that’s not so clear: The Target Center is managed by AEG, and while a quick scan of the operating agreement makes it look like the city gets a cut of revenues, it’s going to be tough to generate enough new money to pay off $150 million in renovations. I’m sure Rybak will cite increased economic activity outside the arena as a justification, but as we’ve seen time and time again, much of that would only be cannibalized from elsewhere in town, or at least elsewhere in the state — it’s not like a ton of people are going to be driving in from North Dakota to see the latest Limp Bizkit tour.

In any event, it doesn’t look like the Target Center reno plans are going anywhere for the moment: Rybak didn’t even include them in this year’s legislative funding requests. Still, elected officials seem eager to include the arena with the Vikings stadium and a new St. Paul Saints stadium on the state’s agenda sooner than later: “I think there will be an effort to at least throw out the idea of a solution for all of these facilities,” Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “A broader solution has to be found.” Be afraid, be very afraid.