Here's a quote from a Vikings executive that was said with a straight face:
"We only have $975 million in the budget, and there's only so many things you can get under that number," said Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley.
It should go without saying, yet can't be noted enough, that the Vikings are paying less than half of the cost of a new stadium that will do wonders for the value of the team. Minnesota is paying $348 million, and Minneapolis will chip in $150 million by raising taxes. The ultra-rich Wilfs—who we remind you are "evil" racketeers—are putting in a pittance up front. Of the team's $477 committment, $150 million will come from a low-interest loan from the NFL, $50 million from a no-strings-attached grant from the league, and up to $250 million from a private loan.
And yet! A week after the lease was officially signed, it's turning out that the project will cost more than $975 million. And rather than cover the cost overruns—as the Twins did for Target Field—the Wilfs would rather cut back on some of the stadium's planned features.
Among the potential casualties: a 400-stall parking garage a block north of the stadium, a skyway linked to a ramp a block south, two large escalators and as much as 40 feet from the height of five massive, pivoting glass doors at the venue's main entrance.
But the Vikings owners aren't stripping this thing to its bare bones. They're insisting that the stadium keep some of the proposed cuts, including stadium wi-fi, a large video board, and a ribbon board wrapping around the inside of the stadium. (Great for advertisements, you see.) The team has generously offered to advance money to make sure those things get built. Worry not for the Wilfs' bottom line: As per the terms of the agreement, they'll be paid back from the stadium authority's contingency fund.
The new stadium has been a debacle from the beginning, with state politicians deserving just as much blame. Minnesota planned to pay for its contribution with the proceeds from electronic gambling. It was projected to raise $35 million in just its first year. It raised $0.00. To make up the shortfall, the legislature introduced two new taxes.
But stadiums will forever get public funding, because the politicians who get to trumpet that they kept the team in town rarely stick around long enough when the bill comes due. Fourteen years after Cincinnati agreed to fund the Bengals' stadium, and 10 years after it opened, Hamilton County was still putting 16 percent of its annual budget toward paying off Paul Brown Stadium.
So it will be with the Vikings' sweetheart deal, which is set up for the team to profit in every conceivable manner. They will take all the revenues from selling naming rights. Three-quarters of the seats in the new stadium will require the purchase of personal seat licenses, at an average cost of $2,500. The PSLs alone are expected to account for at least $100 million of the Wilfs' share of construction costs.
Gov. Mark Dayton has aggressively and repeatedly pitched the project as "the People's Stadium." He's right—the people of Minnesota will be paying for it for a long while.