By Martiga Lohn
ST. PAUL, Minn.— The Vikings stadium deal that Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law this week involves plenty of public participation, but it also prevents the public from getting a look at the team’s finances during their partnership to build the $975 million stadium.
The law commits the state and city of Minneapolis to pay a combined $498 million, while the team will bring in $477 million from private sources.
One provision would shield “any financial information” from the team from public eyes. Critics say the blanket protection goes beyond state law, leaving taxpayers in the dark on one of the state’s biggest public works projects. Minnesota law already allows businesses that get state money to avoid disclosing trade secrets, business plans, tax returns and other financial data.
“We now have the largest public commitment in the state’s history in an agreement with the Vikings, and we have an unprecedented lack of disclosure,” said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, who voted against the stadium bill. “I just think that sunshine in government is good, and in exchange for nearly half a billion dollars in public commitment, there should be some sunshine on the other side of the ledger.”
The law creates a Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority — with members to be appointed by Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak — to vet the team’s ability to fulfill its financial commitment to build, operate and repair the stadium over 30 years. The authority can demand audited financial statements and other financial information if the team breaches its agreement, but it must keep that information confidential.
That means the public won’t be entitled to find out how much the team makes on stadium naming rights or parking or how much team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf contributed. The list of companies that bid to build the stadium will be kept confidential until the winner is selected.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said the privacy shield for the Vikings was a “sweeping overgeneralized reference” that shouldn’t have passed.
“If you follow it by the letter of the law, they do not have to disclose a single iota of information in the relationship between the public money sources and the private sector,” said Limmer, who voted against the bill after arguing on the floor that privacy issues should have been examined in the judiciary committee he heads.
The Democratic governor and other stadium supporters said the authority’s oversight of the team’s finances provided protection for the public.
“The authority should have the right to make sure that they have the financial wherewithal, but where their financing comes from really is, you know, their business,” Dayton said after signing the bill.
“To just have their books all laid open to the public, I think that’s very dangerous,” said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the stadium bill’s Senate sponsor.
Team vice president Lester Bagley said financial information also had been kept confidential for the Twins and other NFL teams with stadium deals. He said the Vikings shared audited financial statements with Dayton’s office and the business community during the stadium debate, on the promise of confidentiality.
Asked whether the team voluntarily would disclose more than the new law requires, he said, “We’ll abide by and conform with the legislative requirements.”
Another provision gives Legislative Auditor James Nobles the power to examine private financial information during regular audits of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, but he also is barred from releasing information classified as nonpublic.
The Capitol signing ceremony drew construction workers and fans, who cheered, whistled and sang the team’s “Skol Vikings” fight song. Protesters carrying hand-lettered signs heckled Dayton and other speakers, one of them yelling, “Shame on you! Shame on you!” at the governor.
The Wilfs shared the stage with elected officials from the Legislature and Minneapolis, where the City Council must give final approval to its share of the cost in a vote expected this month; Rybak has said he was confident it would pass.
The city is redirecting an existing hospitality tax to pay its $150 million share of the stadium construction, while the state will cover its $348 million contribution through taxes on new electronic versions of pulltabs, a low-tech paper game sold by charitable organizations in bars and restaurants.
The new stadium will be built on the downtown Minneapolis site of the Metrodome, the team’s current home. The team will move in by 2016.
Now that the bill is signed, Dayton said he was turning his attention to naming three members of the five-person Sports Facilities Authority that would own and operate the stadium and serve as the team’s landlord. Rybak will pick the other two.
“The team is obviously anxious to get going,” Dayton said, “and the clock is ticking already in getting it opened as soon as possible, so that’ll be top priority for the rest of this week.”