Talking Points -- This might be prime time for Vikes to get new stadium
Tom Hackbarth hasn't been very successful in his efforts, but you can't say the Minnesota House Representative isn't a wily politician when it comes to getting a stadium built for the Minnesota Vikings.
It's certainly no coincidence that Hackbarth chose Monday, when Minnesotans were going absolutely bonkers over Brett Favre playing against his old team, to float a modified plan to get a stadium built.
It didn't hurt that Favre delivered a masterful performance and the Vikings defeated the Green Bay Packers in one of the most-watched Monday Night Football games in years.
Hackbarth, a Republican from Cedar, seems to have learned that timing is everything when it comes to the fickle nature of fandom.
Hackbarth came up with the idea of using gambling revenue to help build a stadium about five years ago. The Vikings desperately want out of the Metrodome and would like to have at least a plan for a new stadium in place when their lease expires in 2011. Without it, the team could be on the move out of Minnesota.
When the lawmaker first proposed the plan it gained little traction. He resurfaced the idea again last spring and House leadership and the governor still didn't get behind it. The Vikings stated that the team hadn't even talked with Hackbarth about his proposal. At the time, team officials were taking a PR beating for throwing a little tantrum about a lack of state support for a stadium at the same time lawmakers were checking under couch cushions and raiding piggy banks in an effort to erase a budget shortfall in the billions of dollars. Wishing to not rankle lawmakers further, the team gave Hackbarth's plan tepid praise, saying the team was happy someone was thinking creatively about a solution.
But Hackbarth's plan might garner some support this time.
First, he's revised the plan so that instead of building a privately owned casino and using that revenue for the stadium, now slot machines at Minnesota's horse tracks would supply the stadium money.
Second, taxpayers would not see an increase for a stadium, he said. That's a key element, if it holds up. Minnesotans love their Vikings and loathe more taxes with equal fervor.
Third, Hackbarth has caught the populace at a critical juncture. Last spring, Vikings fans were a dispirited bunch. It's top two defensive linemen were facing suspensions, the team hadn't yet lured Favre out of retirement and the available quarterbacks weren't inspiring much confidence among fans. Now, the team is undefeated, merchandizing and ticket revenue is pouring in and an energized fan base can plausibly envision a Super Bowl trip for the first time in 10 years.
There are considerable obstacles. First, lawmakers aren't yet jumping on Hackbarth's bandwagon with the same frequency that fans are jumping on the new-look Vikings'.
Second, the plan would create competition with the gambling operations of Native American tribes, which are big-time campaign contributors.
Third, there are questions about a "racino" being able to generate the money needed for what could be a billion-dollar stadium project.
And last, there's the potential for a public relations disaster if state officials are perceived to be catering to a billionaire sports team owner while the state flails about in an ever-deepening pool of red ink.
But Hackbarth points to a Minneapolis Star Tribune poll taken last spring that showed almost 87 percent of respondents approved of using gambling revenue for a stadium.
Hackbarth might finally get his idea off the ground when the Legislature convenes in February. It would undoubtedly help his cause if, by then, the Vikings had a Vince Lombardi Trophy to show around the Capitol during lobbying trips.