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Stadium park has strings, but also money, attached

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The public park that will be located next to the new Vikings stadium is sparking controversy in Minneapolis. Critics argue the city may have given too much priority to private Vikings games and stadium events.

The critical voices include former mayor R.T. Rybak and city council member Cam Gordon: They're questioning the rights the city is giving to the open space about to be created when the Star Tribune sells its real estate holdings bounded by 4th and 5th Streets and Park and 5th Avenue.

The park will be located on most of two of the five Star Tribune blocks purchased by the Ryan Companies for a Wells Fargo campus. The deal calls for a residential development on the very western edge, but most of the two blocks will be turned over to the city. And Rybak earlier pledged to help raise the money to build it out into a fully realized recreational space.

But  the Vikings will have dibs on the park. A use agreement gives the team use of the park for all home games -- two pre-season games and eight home games, and possibly more if the NFL expands its schedule.

In addition, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the agency that is building the new stadium, will have rights to use the park for an additional 40 days a year, for things like high school tournaments and other events.

"They're generally public events," said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the authority. "It will always be open to the public to come through, very similar to the way our plaza operated when we'd close off Chicago Avenue on game days, for the public to come through."

But if you add those days up those rights to the park could account for nearly 20 percent of the year, and even more if the Vikings owners exercise their rights to bring a Major League Soccer team to Minneapolis. (MLS currently has a 34-game season.)

That's a lot to give up for a public space, charge critics like Rybak and Gordon.

But it's not your typical public space, either. The park, including land acquisition from the Star Tribune, cost $19.8 million. The city sold almost $19 million in bonds to pay for that.

But the stadium authority plans to pay that bond debt -- with parking fees from the underground ramp near the stadium and a new 1,600 space ramp kitty corner from the new stadium.

"Literally 100 percent of the bonds that are going to pay for that block and two-thirds of park space, those bonds are being paid for by our parking revenues," said Kelm-Helgen. "That enabled them to not to have to put any city money into the park. There's no tax increment, no city general funds. There's nothing directly coming from the city into the park, which was their objective."

Those ramps are part of the overall stadium deal: the $1 billion paid mostly by the Vikings and the state -- and the Vikings put in an additional $1 million dollars to seal the development deal last year.

And literally on top of that, the MSFA gave the city development rights on top of the new ramp, rights the city sold those air rights to Ryan Companies for a new Radisson Red hotel and 27-story apartment complex. Ryan paid $5.6 million for those rights, bringing the package value for the city over $25 million .

The city is putting money of its own into the overall deal. Minneapolis is paying $150 million for the stadium construction, and agreed to pay $7.5 million annually for operating expenses at the new facility.

Still, Cam Gordon, the city council member says he wants the city to renegotiate the deal. Rybak even said in an op-ed in the Star Tribune that its time for the city to play "hardball" with the stadium authority and the Vikings, using its regulatory powers to govern land use in the area.

But the deal is in place, negotiated first in December and again in February, and it's unclear how hard a bargain the city can drive with the stadium authority and the Vikings already pledging to pay for much of the project.