Pro-Stadium Politicians Bask In Minnesota's Super Bowl Win

Representative Morrie Lanning: “It’s not just the Super Bowl. It’s a $400 million project being built around the new stadium. I don’t know how anybody can now feel that this was a bad deal.’’

Pro-Stadium Politicians Bask In Minnesota's Super Bowl Win

It was a super day for a handful of Minnesota politicians who a couple of years ago received considerable wrath from colleagues and the public for pushing a $498 million Vikings’ stadium bill through a torturous process.

Governor Mark Dayton, former Representative Morrie Lanning and Senator Julie Rosen hung together through bad and worse until the deal was done in the 2012 session. That’s one Democrat and two Republicans, if you’re counting.

“We were always together on this,’’ recalled Rosen of the push to build the stadium that Tuesday became the 2018 Super Bowl site.

Lanning, who lives in Moorhead, retired after more than a decade of working on stadium bills. Word that Minneapolis will be a Super Bowl site pleased him mightily. But that’s just a one-time thing.

“I’d tell the skeptics to look at what’s happening around this,’’ Lanning said. “It’s not just the Super Bowl. It’s a $400 million project being built around the new stadium. I don’t know how anybody can now feel that this was a bad deal.’’

Lanning has special praise for two Minneapolis politicians who often were very much alone: Former Mayor R.T. Rybak and city council president Barb Johnson.

“I marvel at what they did,’’ Lanning said. “They did an extraordinary job of holding together a 7-6 majority on the city council to support the project.’’ 

Hodges: a foe turned cheerleader

To this day, the political opposition thrown up by Minneapolis politicians for a Minneapolis project bewilders Lanning.

All but a handful of the members of the Minneapolis legislative delegation opposed the measure. In the House, Susan Allen, Karen Clark, Jim Davnie, Marion Greene, Frank Hornstein, Phyllis Kahn, Diane Loeffler, Joe Mullery, Jean Wagenius all voted “no” on the stadium bill. Paul Thissen and Bobby Joe Champion voted yes.

In the Senate, Scott Dibble, Kari Dziedzic and Jeff Hayden were “no’’ votes; Linda Higgins and Ken Kelash voted in support.

But being a politician means never having to say “I might have been wrong.’’

The classic example of that on Tuesday was the performance of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges.

“The Super Bowl is coming!’’ she said. “I could not be more excited.’’

That’s fine, but …

Had Hodges, and not Rybak, been mayor in 2012, there would be no new stadium, no $400 million development around the new stadium, no Super Bowl, no renovation of the Target Center, etc., etc. 

As a council member, Hodges was a proud and strong stadium-package foe. No problem there. But now she’s a cheerleader?

“Today is about the Super Bowl,’’ the mayor said in response to questions about her former stadium position. “I’ve worked my tail off (since stadium bill passage) to see that we get the most out of this; to make this work.’’

Both Rybak and Johnson say that once the legislature passed the stadium project, Hodges has been diligent in “making it work.’’

'The economics of pro sports stinks'

Recall, it’s the state with the big cash stake in the $1 billion project. The state is coming up with $348 million for the stadium.

But it was the city’s portion—$150 million—that was crucial to the project and, given the city’s politics, the most difficult to garner.

“Look,’’ said Rybak, “I understand the opponents. I think the economics of pro sports stinks.’’

What got Rybak and Johnson to push for the deal was using the sales taxes on the convention center, which were scheduled to blink off in 2020, to be shifted to the stadium project and Target Center’s refurbishment without having to raise new tax money.

“Without that,’’ said Rybak, “we were ready to walk away from the deal.’’

Rybak insists that the city’s stadium-deal formula has saved city property taxpayers money. Target Center, he explained, no longer is a giant debt on city taxpayers because of the stadium deal.

Opponents would note the property tax benefits were front-loaded; had the stadium not been built, millions of now-obligated sales-tax dollars annually would’ve been available in the 2020s and beyond for property tax relief or other building projects perhaps more crucial to core city functions.

But when it comes to construction, Rybak is elated at the “catalyst’’ the stadium deal has been. He ticks off the development around the new stadium, and Target Center’s renovation, which he says has led to Block E’s resurrection once the Mayo Clinic moves in. The Super Bowl is just one more plus.

The key vote who lost her job

The city’s key swing player, Johnson insists, was Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, who switched from being a stadium foe to a proponent, giving the council the needed 7-6 stadium majority.

It should be noted that vote might have been costly to Colvin Roy. A year ago, she was not endorsed at her DFL convention, and called it quits after a dozen years on the council.

Rybak and Johnson also made a key decision, Johnson said.

“We pushed for the Metrodome site,’’ she said.

And that, she said, simplified everything for doubters. (Remember, some pushed for the stadium to be built near the Basilica; others wanted it closer to Target Field.)

“We had the land, people knew where it was, they know how to use that location,’’ she said.

Every other site that was considered would have involved costly land purchases.

Johnson didn’t face the opposition from her constituents that other council members did. People in her blue-collar ward, she said, are people who value construction jobs and employment as waiters and caterers.

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The strongest opposition tended to be in the city’s tonier parts.

“I don’t quite understand why that is,’’ she said.

Of course, there will still be naysayers. There will be irritation over special tax deals the NFL will receive. There will be those who continue to say that taxpayers should not subsidize billionaires. And there will be others who scoff, perhaps rightly, at the “value’’ of hosting a Super Bowl.

Hodges said, however, that being a Super Bowl city would not involve extra public expense. Hosting costs, she said, will be covered by a host committee, which will drum up millions from corporate donors.

But over and over, Lanning said, the Super Bowl is a small part of what he’s always considered “a good deal in the long term.’’

“In my 38 years (in politics), I’ve found that after even a controversial project is up and running, the opposition just seems to fade away.’’

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