U.S. Bank Stadium would be debt-free this year under Walz budget

Gov. Tim Walz is proposing to sweep the U.S. Bank Stadium reserve fund to pay off the building's debt this year, a move he says would save taxpayers $226 million in interest payments.

Walz's plan would use $368 million from the stadium reserve fund and $9 million in general fund money to settle the debt 22 years ahead of schedule. The $1.1 billion stadium, which opened in 2016, was built partially with public financing.

When then-Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers approved the stadium's construction in 2012, they legalized electronic pull tabs and taxed the revenue to make $30 million yearly debt payments. After a slow start, electronic pull tabs have soared in popularity, leaving the reserve fund flush with cash.

"I think that this really gets us to a place that we couldn’t have anticipated even 10 years ago," Jim Schowalter, the state budget commissioner, told reporters about the Walz proposal. "Remember, even paying for the stadium was a challenge, and those first few years were rocky."

Walz's plan wouldn't eliminate the electronic pull tab tax once the stadium is paid off. Instead, the tax revenue would shift into the general fund, where it would pay for other state initiatives.

The proposal also calls for forgiving $60 million in outstanding payments from the city of Minneapolis. It's a sweeter deal than the city was presented a year ago by a divided Legislature, though Minneapolis officials still see it only as a starting point because it doesn't address the city's portion of operating and capital expenses at the stadium.

"We look forward to working with the Minneapolis legislative delegation, the governor’s administration and all stakeholders on a proposal that eliminates the city’s obligation to make payments on debt that has been paid off and to identify stable, predictable, long-term solutions for operating and capital expenses," said Casper Hill, a spokesperson for the city.

Over the past year, lawmakers made various proposals to pay off the debt, including a last-minute 2022 proposal that fizzled in the divided Legislature. City officials objected after lawmakers offered $5 million in forgiven payments, a fraction of Walz's new proposal.

Walz's budget also allocates $15.7 million for a secure perimeter around the stadium at the request of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. The first phase of the project, which would be funded with the state money, calls for a K12 secure perimeter -- typically, fencing and gated entries -- around the north, east, and south sides of U.S. Bank Stadium.

A future phase could extend the secure perimeter to the stadium's west side, including the plaza. The Sports Facilities Authority began seeking proposals from contractors in September, and no design or structural plans have been approved, said Michael Vekich, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.

"The Authority is appreciative of the governor’s recommendation to fund the first phase of the secured perimeter project," Vekich said in a email.