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March 24, 2006

Boondoggle inspector

• Tonight I will be making my first trip to the boondoggle that is the Xcel Energy Center. Back in 1997-1998 people in St. Paul and around the state, and legislators in the hallowed halls of the capitol building, were ticked off with the idea of giving a private business (the Wild) any kind of assistance to build a new hockey arena in St. Paul. Man people were angry! But regardless, after literally years of negotiations they came up with this deal:

The Xcel Energy Center cost $130 million to build. The state gave the City of Saint Paul an interest-free $65 million loan. The remaining $65 million needed to pay for the arena came from bonds sold by the City of Saint Paul to be repaid over 25 years. Repayment of the state loan comes solely from the Wild's annual rent payment and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), which are guaranteed by the team. The Wild are also required to pay for 100% of the costs of operating the facilty. So, for essentially $65 million, the city of St. Paul has a beautiful new world-class arena. In other words, the people of St. Paul will pay off this $65 million.

I'll be attending a Minnesota Swarm lacrosse game tonight and I am excited to see what a boondoggle the Xcel Energy Center is. Because I've been told that when you give tax money to private corporations it is a boondoggle. I am excited to see just how much the people of St. Paul hate the Xcel Energy Center. I'm excited to see the continued anger and malice towards the idea of giving taxpayer money to millionaires and billionaires.

I mean, don't people in St. Paul still feel this way? Aren't they still angry about their tax dollars going to this facility? Aren't you still angry that your tax dollars went to an interest free loan for the Wild? We could have invested that $65 million and made tons more money than by giving the Wild an interest free loan. I expect I'll see some protests outside of the arena ... you know people chanting "No corporate welfare!" and stuff like that.

I will see that kind of thing, won't I?

• So, the Senate passed a $990 million bonding bill yesterday. This makes me think of two things: 1) Man I wish the Senate was the only legislative body in this state and 2) people don't care. Well, let me reiterate that last thought a little bit: people don't care about that as much as they care about something else in this state: sports.

One of the best things about the new Star Tribune web site is the two sections on home page titled: Top Read Stories, and Top Emailed Stories. When the news came out that the Senate did the impossible and passed a bipartisan bonding bill in March I expected to see this story race to the top of both of these lists. I kept checking over and over again to see when this news would make even an appearance. You wanna know when that happened? Never.

The top stories through most of the afternoon were stories having to do with the Vikings and the Twins. The Vikings signed a washed up backup QB and the Strib ran a story about Francisco Liriano. Both of these stories stayed on these lists throughout the day, but the state Senate passing a huge bonding bill saw little to no interest. What does this say?

To me it says two things (again): 1) people don't care about politics nearly enough in this state and 2) there is a slumbering giant out there called the "sports fan." Remember when the Twins were trying to get Victory Sports off the ground and how much people from all over the state freaked out that they couldn't see the Twins on TV? Wow people were angry! They wrote letters to the editor. They even wrote their legislators begging them to do something. All so they could just watch the Twins on TV. Do you remember?

Can you imagine what will happen if the Twins moved or were contracted?

A wise person once wrote a comment on these pages saying that we won't really see the true colors of the people of Minnesota until either a stadium is approved or the Twins cease to exist. Here is what I think: if a stadium is approved you will certainly see some anger from anti-stadium zealots, but much like what has happened to those negative feelings and the Xcel Energy Center, people will quickly move on and embrace the new facility.

However, if something ever happened to the Twins where they moved or were contracted ... that will be fun to watch won't it? I often complain about the apathy of Twins fans regarding the stadium issue. If the Twins ever ceased to exist in Minnesota, though ... wow. That is when we will see some true "freaking out." How long would it take before we got a new MLB team? Seven years like it took us to get a new hockey team? And how much will it cost us then to build a stadium? Let's just say way more than it would cost us right now.

Posted by snackeru at March 24, 2006 8:18 AM | Stadiums 2006


Nice post, Shane. And please don't forget the time we inspected the boondoggle known as lightrail when I was in town last September (wow, that seems like a long time ago!). Both you and I remarked that in spite of how efficiently it ran, and how many people used, it was obviously a waste of taxpayers' money, just like the Metro Dome, Mall of America, Excel Center, etc. You should take a trip one boondoggle to see an athletic event in another boondoggle!

Curt in Grand Forks (who really likes the word boondoggle)

Posted by: Curt Hanson at March 24, 2006 10:16 AM

Whatever happened to St. Paul's Mayor at the time the X was approved... Norm something. Haven't seen him around town in over 4 years. Boy the good voters of St. Paul must have really run him out of town on a very long rail. That'll teach a lesson to any politician who sticks his or her neck out in support of a Twins ballpark.

Posted by: freealonzo at March 24, 2006 10:25 AM

"1) people don't care about politics nearly enough in this state"

I think you hit the nail on the head with this one, Shane. I'll add that a lot of the "slumbering sports fans" out there have already been mobilized by the stadium issue (both for and against), but unfortunately not much else. I realize that yours is a stadium-centric blog, so I understand that your focus is on how this affects stadiums being built, but do we really want $1 billion in public funds allocated on the whims of a "silent majority" that cares more about the Vikings signing Jim -- er, MIKE -- McMahon than they do about fiscal public policy? That's not to say these projects are without merit, of course, but we shouldn't agree to just any stadium plan simply to satisfy the above-mentioned folks.

As for your Xcel rant, I don't know that I've seen the word "boondoggle" attached to it so much, but I do know that Target Center could have hosted professional hockey but each team needs dedicated revenues from controlling their own stadiums these days. A related bit: despite reporting that the Target Center and the X are already stretched thin for events, and advocating for at least 3 more competing stadiums to be built, Sid Hartman wants to see the Metrodome stay open after all is said and done because it is still a useful facility. How this non-slumbering sports fan would have us pay for this, he doesn't say.

And a fun fact: do you know that it costs more to go to a Swarm game than a Twins game? Even with a student discount. Crazy.

Posted by: spycake at March 24, 2006 10:33 AM

Thanks Curt, yes, the LRT is another great boondoggle that people flipped out over. And yet none of their predictions really came true. It is a smashing success. Makes you wonder what else these people could be wrong about ...

Freealonzo, I found this Roger Moe quote in March 12, 1998 Strib. Interestingly enough, Moe was the biggest critic of the Xcel Energy Center:

"Moe said that if Coleman runs for statewide office by using $65 million from Minnesota taxpayers 'to subsidize 14 millionaires, he's going to have a hard time getting elected on that platform.'"

Well, he was right about one thing. Coleman isn't in state politics anymore.

And spycake, of course we shouldn't agree to "just any plan" but how about a plan negotiated by the Twins and the Hennepin County Board themselves? I constantly hear people begging someone to sit down with the Twins and come up with a plan that satisfies everyone. This plan satisfies HC, and it satisfies the Twins. I know it doesn't satisfy you, but it does satisfy the two most important parties. Could it be better? Sure, but I am willing to trust the HC commissioners.

I know we've heard that the X and the Target Center are competing with each other for acts, but is competition such a bad thing? The two buildings still seem to be going strong. A new Vikings stadium would most certainly mean the Metrodome ceases to exist (and I think we can both agree that the Vikings should look into renovating it one more time), and a new Twins ballpark would probably also host Gopher baseball, and other baseball related activites like Little League, etc. I guess I'm not seeing this problem of having too many facilities. But I haven't really looked into it too much.

Posted by: Shane at March 24, 2006 11:35 AM

Come to think of it, it's too bad that the good people didn't hold the XCEL Energy Center against Norm.

Posted by: SBG at March 25, 2006 1:14 PM

I have had this topic of Minnesota's apathy to their team's situations on my mind recently. Although I think they are generally a bunch of wackos on both sides of the issue I have to admire those folks who get all worked up about this marriage amendment thing. They can fill the steps of the Capitol or the rotunda with 100's of people get a ton of media coverage and make the legislators have to pay attention to this dumb issue. If we called for all Minnesota sports fans who supported new stadiums for the Twins and the Vikes to show up at the Capitol it would just end up being me and you and that one Viking fan from awhile back.

Posted by: Jiminstpaul at March 25, 2006 9:31 PM

Appreciate the post.

What it does, IMO, is reveal what the real focus of the "anti-stadium" nuts is.

The stadium is just a means to an end. In every context, they're either on offense or they're on defense.

The "offense" side of the equation is to portray oneself as the only protector of the 'little guy' against the 'monied interests' - team owners make good villians - in the hope of creating issues for future elections which, if successful, will add to their influence in state government.

The "defense" strategy is seen in the false choices they pose - "How can we spend this money on a stadium when we should be spending it on education, etc., etc., etc."

Which is a bald faced lie - they wouldn't take the money out of any of the alleged 'victims' of the stadium. In fact, the only reason the alleged vicitms are mentioned in the screed is because they KNOW voters would skin any politician who did that (for a stadium or anything else, for that matter) alive.

No, if a stadium gets built, the state money for the stadium will come out of somewhere else - some other fund where the voters won't care all that much, but particular constituents & supporters of the politician will.

Politicians consider the budget their own personal vote-buying machine. They won't tolerate having their budget authority squeezed by "non-essentials" (defined as "expenditures which don't particularly add to their vote totals at election time").

Posted by: BD57 at March 26, 2006 2:02 PM

Remember, there are some reasoned anti-stadium folks out there (just like I'm happy to report you folks rank among the more reasoned pro-stadium people I've met).

Also, Shane, I think the Gophers baseball program has already declined to get involved with the new Twins stadium. And if you've been to any high school games at Xcel, you know that amateur sports don't need these new stadiums -- that's the logical equivalent of building a new symphony hall and using it for high school band practice. The new stadiums need the amateur sports just to legitimize themselves, as a PR tool. As for the "too many facilities" problem, the Vikings stadium boosters have said the Dome is inadequate for NCAA basketball and that's one of the reasons we need to support their stadium plan, while Sid Hartman indicates the NCAA loves holding events there and the Dome will stick around for awhile. Sounds like we might be reaching our pro stadium saturation point.

Posted by: spycake at March 27, 2006 4:10 PM

Whatever happened to St. Paul's Mayor at the time the X was approved... Norm something. Haven't seen him around town in over 4 years. Boy the good voters of St. Paul must have really run him out of town on a very long rail.

Well, to be fair, "the good voters of St. Paul" aren't particularly big fans of Norm Something anymore. Though that has little to nothing to do with the X.

Posted by: Rieux at March 29, 2006 11:06 AM

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