Minneapolis seeks help paying Target Center's billsby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
The city of Minneapolis is looking for help from the state to pay off the $62 million it owes on the Target Center. City officials say keeping up with payments on the facility is hampering the city's ability to pay for essential services such as public safety and road repair.
But state legislators may be a bit stingy in the upcoming session, since the state is facing a $373 million budget shortfall. And the governor has made it clear his top bonding priority is transportation.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Minneapolis officials say the debt burden could be lighter with more income from the Target Center. That's because the city is part of a three-way revenue-sharing agreement involving the Target Center's main tenant, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the building's manager, AEG.
But lately, the Timberwolves haven't been doing their part. On a recent weekday night, the Timberwolves are on the court in the Target Center in front of nearly 11,000 fans. This year, each game has pulled in about 1,000 fewer people than last year.
Every time a fan buys a snack, beverage or over-sized novelty foam wolf paw, the city gets a few pennies. City officials estimate that drooping attendance means the city is missing $7,000 to $8,000 per game.
Like the Timberwolves, the Target Center is having a hard time keeping up with its competition. The 17-year-old arena has lost out on some concerts to the newer, snazzier, Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Music fans and some bands say they prefer the acoustics in the Xcel. Minneapolis' finance director Pat Born says the company that manages the Target Center has committed $2 million to make some cosmetic upgrades.
"If people have been in the Target Center recently, they know that all the seats in the playing bowl have been replaced, the scoreboard has been replaced, the lighting ribbon has been replaced. That's new," says Born. "And we're now adding acoustic improvements in the space. And we're going to make a decision pretty soon about replacing the roof."
The city will foot the bill for a new roof, and is exploring the idea of adding an eco-friendly green roof.
But the big expense for the city is the debt service it's still paying, after buying the Target Center 12 years ago for $85 million.
At that time, the former owners of the team tried to sell the Wolves, and the city bought the building as a way to keep the team here. Now the city spends $6 million a year on the principal and interest on those bonds.
Pat Born says the city makes payments on the bonds using a combination of tax income from the Target Center and other revenue streams. Born says that money would normally go into the city's general fund.
"So arguably, this is money that could be used for general municipal purposes -- police, fire, parks and streets," says Born.
Born and other city officials say the state should help the city with the Target Center, because it attracts visitors from out of town and out of state. And while they're here, visitors use the same services city residents do.
Those people also spend money at downtown stores, bars, restaurants and hotels. The city gets a piece of the taxes generated by those sales. However, Born says that portion is small in comparison to what the state gets.
"Because the state collects income tax on players' salaries, and the corporate expense of running the basketball team and the hockey team in St. Paul, as well as the other professional teams," says Born. "The state is by far the biggest tax beneficiary of having sports teams and professional sports teams in Minnesota."
Earlier this week Gov. Pawlenty released his $1 billion list of bonding priorities. Target Center debt relief was not on his list, but he did include $40 million for the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
Minneapolis City Council member Betsy Hodges says it's kind of unusual for the governor to include a city bonding request on his list. She's not sure that move will affect Minneapolis' request.
Hodges chairs the council committee responsible for the city's list of bonding priorities. She hopes state legislators will convince the governor to pass their debt relief proposal.
"I know that it will be in the mix of bonding projects, as the Legislature is examining everything they have on their plate before them," says Hodges. "Do they have $62 million to give to the Target Center? Perhaps not that much. But I'm hoping that we can be successful in getting some debt relief for the Target Center."
The bonding session at the Capitol starts in February. In the meantime, Hodges says she and other city officials have been meeting with state legislators about the Target Center and the city's six other capital bonding requests.
- All Things Considered, 01/17/2008, 5:24 p.m.