This Does Not Compute

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Fear and Loathing in Minneapolis

Courtesy Bring Me the News

This is likely the Rant to End All Rants.

So, on the day before my birthday, we got a stupid amount of snow here in the Minneapolis metro area. Something like 3000 feet of it fell, at about 125 feet per hour. Pretty much everyone got snowed in, sometimes literally (my neighbors across the street had 4 feet of snow up against their front doors). We got so much snow they had to truck some of it away because parking lots didn’t have enough places to put it.

The snowfall stopped that night, and we all breathed a sigh as that meant we had to go out and, finally, shovel our driveways. (I had to shovel 3 times over the course of the day.) And the next morning, my birthday, we woke up to find that the roads had been plowed, the shopping malls had reopened and were eagerly awaiting holiday shoppers, and the roof of the Metrodome had collapsed.

And thus began the Minnesota Vikings Need a New Stadium media hell.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Back in the late 1970s, the Twin Cities needed a new multipurpose stadium. The old Met Stadium in Bloomington was tired and was deemed to need a replacement, so Minneapolis built a new, modern multipurpose facility right in downtown. Even better, it had a roof so it could be a comfy 70 degrees inside while it was nasty cold outside. No more rain delays for baseball, no more blizzard football games, and they could also host conventions, concerts, and monster truck rallies in there too. It was a great solution, because the facility would get used all the time so the city would maximize its return on investment.

There were a few compromises, of course, when building a multipurpose stadium. It had a big retractable seat section that could be lowered for football (giving the playing field its normal rectangular shape), or raised for baseball (which would free up room for the right outfield). There would be turnover time between events, especially in the fall when baseball and football would sometimes overlap (occasionally there would be a baseball game one evening and a football game the next), so careful scheduling was important. And, the crux of the current issue, the roof was inflatable as a traditional truss roof in such a large space would be an enormous mass.

They had a couple hiccups with the roof at first. A couple times some strong winds caused it to ripple, and it deflated once. Nobody was hurt (nobody was even inside  the bowl of the stadium at the time), and they managed to get it reinflated without a problem. Inflatable roofs in a structure like that were new in that era, and they had a lot to figure out; I’ll give them a pass on that.

After the kinks got worked out, the Twins, Vikings and Gopher college football all called the Dome home, and for the most part they didn’t complain. By the late 90’s, though, it became very in vogue to have dedicated facilities for each team, and grumbling started about various aspects of the barely 20-year-old building.

As time went on, the grumbling got louder.

The exodus from the Dome

Around the middle of the 00’s, the Twins’s whining about the Dome began to reach a fever pitch.They wanted a fancy outdoor ballpark, just like how they play baseball in Los Angeles or Houston or Atlanta, nevermind the fact that those places have climates nothing like Minnesota’s. They wanted their new ballpark to be downtown too, because apparently that’s where all the cool stuff still is (I guess nobody remembered to tell Block E or Gaviidae Common that they needed to continue being entertaining). The catch, though, is they didn’t want to pay full price for that muffler ballpark.

Somehow, and I’m sure nobody in Minnesota quite knows, they managed to talk Hennepin County (the most populous county in the state, also where Minneapolis proper resides) into cutting them a big check. And even more controversially, the county decided that, in order to cover the cost of that big check, it would raise the county’s sales tax levy, and didn’t bother to let its residents decide. If you spent money in the Twin Cities and were west of the Mississippi, you were paying for the new ballpark and you couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

Thus, the new Target Field was a done deal. The University of Minnesota wanted in on the action too, because they were always at the bottom of the totem pole when it came to field time in the Metrodome. They appealed to a higher power, though — namely, the state legislature. The entire state of Minnesota paid to build the Gophers a new facility, TCF Bank Stadium, in which to continue the tradition of horribly played football.

By the end of 2009, the not-yet-30-year-old Metrodome only had one recurring client left: the Vikings. That client wanted out, though, badly, and only had to wait two more years for its lease to expire.

The beginning of the loathing

Right about the time the Gophers got their new field, the Vikings began to complain — loudly — about just how horrible the Metrodome seemingly was. There were never any specific reasons offered, as far as I remember. It pretty much was, the Metrodome is old and we want a new one. Why, what’s wrong with it? It’s old and we want a new one.

Grand plans for a new, outdoor stadium started to be drawn up. A permanent site wasn’t (and hasn’t been, as of this writing) decided, but places like way out in the middle of nowhere (a northern suburb) and a certain plot of land in downtown Minneapolis became news fodder. Which plot of land in downtown Minneapolis? Why, the very plot the Metrodome happens to be occupying currently.

And since the Vikings organization started whining about the Metrodome, then its lemmings fanbase followed suit. Again, I still have heard absolutely no explanations as to what’s so bad about the Metrodome that a bit of remodeling can’t fix. I bring this up to the few people who have tried to justify their reasoning, and after blowing a hole in their argument, they give up and change the topic.

Regardless, the Vikings, its fans, the local media and now some parts of the state legislature have all bought into the notion that a new stadium is the only option.

The fabrication of fear

Fear of the future of the Vikings, specifically the team’s continued residence in Minnesota, has been drummed up as of late. This fear is mostly artificial, generated by the Vikings management itself. The Metrodome roof deflation on December 12 was the perfect opportunity for renewed calls for a new stadium, and the Vikings wasted no time in seizing it. Almost immediately they started to refer to the Metrodome as “unsafe”, despite that nobody has been injured by any of the roof deflations that have occurred and that there are guywires installed in the roof to prevent it from reaching the stands or playing field. In order words, many, many things would have to go wrong for anyone to be hurt by a roof deflation, but that fact has been largely glossed over in the news and, of course, just plain doesn’t exist as far as the Vikings are concerned. They want you to believe that you’re at risk of dying just by setting foot in the Metrodome (an argument that can be extended to, well, any aspect of life really), and the public at large seems to be buying it.

The other fabricated fear is only implied by the Vikings, but is also driven to help the Vikings’ goal of a new stadium. Los Angeles is lacking a pro football team, and the implication is that if no new stadium happens, the Vikings will be “forced” to move there (or anyone else, really, who’s willing to placate the team). Despite the fact the team has never won a Super Bowl and, in recent years (especially this one), struggled to reach the playoffs, Minnesotans have a bizarre attachment to the team. I suspect it’s out of jealousy of the Packers and its devoted fanbase, but whatever. The fact is, most Minnesotans likely would be willing to pay more taxes if it keeps the Vikings in town.

So what’s my problem?

Why do I have such a problem with building a new stadium? I have no problem with the stadium itself; the problem I have is twofold:

1. I fail to understand what is so wrong with the Metrodome as a facility.
2. I’m not willing to have my tax money go to support private enterprise’ profits.

Let me explain these two points.

As I’ve mentioned above, there’s been plenty of bellyaching about the Dome, but when pressed for details I’ve heard nothing about substantial problems with the facility. The top two complains I’ve heard have been those about the limited concessions and bathrooms. More bathrooms can surely be built, and concession stands expanded and added, for much less than the $900 million or so that a new stadium would cost. It’s the equivalent of building a brand new house just because you don’t like the paint color you currently have.

The bigger problem I have is with having to pick up some, or all, of the tab for a new facility. My property taxes have gone up, and my income isn’t increasing to match. The State of Minnesota is facing a $6 billion shortfall, and with Republicans taking control of the legislature, that means the shortfall likely won’t be mended by raising taxes again. What’s more likely is that city and state services will be cut even further (MNDot is saying it might run out of money in its budget due to all the snow we’ve gotten this winter — I’d rather like to have all the inevitable potholes get filled in the spring), so add on to that the percentage that the state would chip in for the Vikings’ new palace, and that’s even less money for services. And by extension, if the cities don’t get as much state funding they either need to cut their own services or raise taxes (again). I want neither to happen.

A simple analogy is this: If I showed up at a City Council meeting and demanded that the city pay my mortgage for me, I’d get laughed at. I could argue that, without the expense of a home loan I’d have more money to spend at local stores (and thus support the city’s tax revenue), but that still wouldn’t fly. Yet that’s essentially the Vikings’ pitch — pay our rent and you’ll get some if it back in tax revenue.

Minnesotans are great at being passive-aggressive. (Surprising as it may seem to some, I actually prefer driving in Los Angeles than I do in Minneapolis. Everyone in L.A. drives aggressively, and you come to expect that. You just know that the guy in the next lane over will cut you off, and you accept that and don’t get mad. But because Minnesotans are passive-aggressive, there’s a 50 percent chance getting cut off will happen, so when it does happen you get pissed.) And while some may complain about the prospect of higher taxes amidst some of the highest unemployment rates in history, eventually most will capitulate if the alternative is the precious Vikings move away.

Untimately, I see two possible outcomes to this whole scenario. First is the state gives in and cuts the Vikings a check for their new field. Second is the state puts its foot down (the only thing I’d be thankful for having Republicans in office for) and the team moves elsewhere. In either case, there is no regular tenant for the Metrodome. I’ve tweeted that I’m betting $10 that within 4 years the Metrodome will be a pile of rubble, and I stand by that.

So, I shall offer my goodbyes now, one in hope and one with certainty. For the former, so long Vikings, best of luck in Los Angeles (or Houston, or San Antonio, or wherever you end up). For the latter, goodbye Metrodome, I will miss you.

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