The Fine Print, Vikings edition

Ramsey County has released the “term sheet” that lays out the principals of the deal hashed out between the Vikings and county officials this week.

It’s an incredibly interesting document, if you’re a stadium policy wonk, and has some interesting clues about where this whole thing might be headed.

Let’s start at the back, on page 12.

THE COST FACTOR

The term sheet bottom-lines the project cost at $1.057 billion. But that’s not really a firm figure if you read it closely. For one thing, it counts a “trade in” value for the Vikings old home at $15 million. That’s a number the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission has mentioned before, but its hard to know what 20 acres of clean downtown real estate with a light rail stop is really worth.

But there’s another number there that’s even MORE interesting. It’s the site acquisition cost. The 430 acre TCAAP parcel being eyed for the project is listed as having a $30M price tag, to be split by the team and the county. What the document doesn’t say: The county has already been given 113 acres of the overall TCAAP site for park land, and bought another chunk for $1 to site its public works operations. The GSA said Wednesday that the site hasn’t formally been put up for auction yet.

And it might never be.

Keep an eye out for signs of a fire sale, potentially with the help of Rep. Betty McColllum, that gives the Vikings and Ramsey County a deep discount on the site, with some of the savings perhaps going to that pesky infrastructure problem or lowering the county sales tax contribution. McCollum has been seriously involved in the TCAAP before, and in 2003 even backed relocating post office operations from St. Paul to the site to help make room for rail development at the Union Depot. (Footnote here: East Metro policy wonks might remember that Mark Dayton and Norm Coleman took positions against that, back in their U.S. Senate days. Dayton might have indirectly helped save this site for the Vikings.)

Now, on to some other numbers…

PERSONAL SEAT LICENSES

Vikings owner Mark Wilf made a glancing reference to “personal seat licenses” at the announcement in Arden Hills this week. He said it might be considered down the road. But from the looks of the term sheet, it’s been pretty seriously considered already. The clue? A caveat on page 6. Under “Team/Private Contribution” the deal says that if PSL sales “exceed $125 million,” the margin goes to pay for overruns.

Someone has already crunched the numbers and has put a nine-figure total on those sales.

The initial section of the term sheet calls for a 65,000-seat stadium, and a subsequent provision calls for an unspecified number of “affordable” tickets that presumably wouldn’t have a PSL. If there are 2,500 of those affordable seats, that means an average up-front PSL cost of $2,000 a seat for the privilege of buying game tickets.

Oh, and look here. That’s right about what they’re going for on the secondary market in a dozen other NFL cities.

GET IT FOR A DISCOUNT

The most interesting and puzzling number in this deal, though, isn’t the PSL cost or the number of seats, or the infrastructure cost. It’s another, buried on page 6. “Project Savings” says the heading. It gives the first $41 million in savings — actual costs below budget — to the Vikings. That aligns nicely with about a 10 percent discount on their $407 million contribution, so it may just be trivia that its a non-round number.

But someone at the negotiating table with the Vikings and Ramsey County was confident enough that there’s a prize in the bottom of that box that they spelled out how to dole it out. They even put a top end on the figure: “The County and the Team shall share equally in the next $100 million in net project savings. The Team, County and State shall share equally in any net project savings greater than $141 million.”

Maybe it’s just the equivalent of the office pool imagining what they’ll do if they win the lottery. But someone has made contingency plans if that $1.057 billion turns out to be high.

It’s yet another indication that there may be more money in this deal than at first blush.

WHO’S THE BOSS?

And remember how this is supposed to be a “people’s stadium?” Let’s take a look at the people who will really run it. The term sheet calls for a 5-member stadium authority, modeled on the Twins’ Target Field. The kicker? The Vikings stadium chair would be appointed not by the governor – as is the case with the Metrodome’s Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission – but by the Ramsey County board.

There didn’t seem much love left to lose between Ramsey County commissioner Tony Bennett and the MSFC chair Ted Mondale this week. In the May 5 Star Tribune:

Bennett said that Mondale was “supposed to be neutral, but everything I hear is that he’s only pushing the Dome site. It frustrates me because we haven’t had any help from him in putting together a deal.”

Frustrating the guy who championed the deal might be a hurdle to winning the chair’s job from the Ramsey County board if the Arden Hills deal comes to pass.

Of course, the governor and the Legislature might change that governance language in the final deal, and Mondale was a former state Senator. So that stipulation may not be the last word on the subject of legal authority.

THE BREAKUP(S)

There are a LOT of outs to this deal, the most subjective of which is “Timing and level of Business Community support acceptable to the Team.” That’s a lot of unilateral leeway.

It’s familiar territory for east Metro stadium boosters. Back in 2002, St. Paul got a custom-tailored Twins stadium bill out of the Legislature. Talks between the city and team went on for months, but collapsed July 11, 2002, when then-mayor Randy Kelly said he wouldn’t put a tax referendum on the ballot unless the Twins signed an exclusivity agreement with the city.

They wouldn’t. He didn’t. And now the team is taking its lumps next to Sharing and Caring Hands, instead of the Dorothy Day Center

In short, even if this thing makes it out of the Capitol, there are probably ways for the Vikings deal to go wrong that no one has even thought of yet.

  • Paul

    Is the cost of cleaning up the pollution on the site reflected in the budget estimate? It seemed that this had been a topic of conversation concerning the TCAAP site, but now nobody seems to be talking about it. Isn’t the cost of cleaning up that pollution potentially quite large?

  • Matt

    Is talk of a possible MLS team if the stadium deal goes through legit, or just a tactic to garner more support?