Dayton, Rybak name Vikings stadium construction oversight panel

Stadium concept
The Minnesota Vikings released this concept of a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, April, 2, 2012. This illustration show non-game day activity and the proposed Winter Garden light rail train station.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

A five-member panel of government and business veterans, including a retired NFL player, will soon be at work supervising the construction of a new football stadium to replace the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak named the members of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Thursday.

Dayton's search for a person to helm the construction of the biggest public works project in state history did not range far. He picked someone right in his own office — Deputy Chief of Staff Michele Kelm-Helgen.

"I'm very committed to making sure that the stadium is built within budget and on time, and provides the kind of job opportunities for Minnesotans that we've been so excited about."

Kelm-Helgen is a behind-the-scenes player in the Dayton administration. But she's worked in a variety of other fields as well.

She is a former Control Data director and a school board member in the Eastern Carver County School Board. She has also been chief of staff to DFL Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and Dayton's liasion to the Legislature.

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Her name has also been familiar to Democrats for generations. Her grandfather Elmer Kelm headed the state's Democratic Party when it merged with the Farmer Labor party during World War II. Her father Tom Kelm was chief of staff for Gov. Wendell Anderson, and her uncle Doug Kelm ran the state's Transit Commission in the early 1970s.

"She's one of the smartest people I know," said Tina Smith, the governor's Chief of Staff. Smith introduced Kelm-Helgen in a press conference call Thursday because the governor is on a trade mission to China.

"She's a tough negotiator," Smith said. "She can read a spreadsheet faster than anyone I know and she will be able to bring all that experience and more to this important position as chair."

Smith emphasized that Dayton wanted someone close to his administration who he could count on to handle what is likely to be the signature accomplishment of his first term.

Smith also said that Dayton was trying to offer some balance with the rest of his appointments.

For political balance, Dayton chose former Republican state Senator and Minority Leader Duane Benson, who is currently a trustee for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and once led the Minnesota Business Partnership.

Benson also played 11 seasons in the NFL, although he concedes his turf-level experience probably doesn't offer much insight into modern stadium construction.

"I was a grunt, and I don't think that was great preparation for much of anything," Benson said.

Despite the exhaustive detail of the 87-page stadium bill signed by the governor last month, Benson said stadium authority members need political skill.

"It's multifacted, and it's even protecting the renters, if you will and that's not exclusively the Minnesota Vikings. It's the tractor pull and the football when Caledonia plays Brainerd or whatever else. So there's a lot of that, as well," Benson said.

"But I think what's on the plate right away is to get the construction started as soon as possible and be thoughtful as to how we do that." Rounding out the governor's picks is John Griffith, executive vice president of property development at Target Corp. — the retailer founded by Dayton's family. Griffith heads real estate development for Target and has worked on siting, designing and building its stores.

The City of Minneapolis also had two seats to fill on the five-member authority. Mayor Rybak appointed Capella University Dean Barbara Butts Williams. She served on the Metropolitan Council in during Gov. Arne Carlson's administration.

Rybak also named Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation President Bill McCarthy to the panel. He is a former president of UNITE-HERE, the hospitality worker union in the Twin Cities, and he also is on the board of directors of the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

The five panel members will be tasked with hiring the consultants, designers and builders of the stadium in partnership with the Vikings. Actual construction work on the team's new home is not expected to begin until next year.