Suite Issues At Vikings’ Stadium

Minnesota’s legislative auditor said Wednesday he’s investigating the use of two luxury suites in the new Minnesota Vikings stadium by top public officials, who control access to the lower-level boxes but won’t identify their guests.

AP Photo/Jim Mone
– Vikings US Bank Stadium Signs
The NFL’s Minnesota Vikings have a new $1.1 billion home at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Wells Fargo violated a signage agreement with the team by placing elevated signs on two office tower rooftops nearby that lawyers say “photo bomb” the stadium. 

Officials with the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority, which is the government body that oversees the U.S. Bank Stadium, get free tickets in two 18-seat lower-level suites for Vikings game and other events, the Star Tribune reported. Authority chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and executive director Ted Mondale have defended the suite access as an important way to woo new business.

Neither Kelm-Helgen nor Mondale would identify their guests aside from a dozen public officials who have reimbursed the state for game tickets, saying that releasing the names of business representatives could harm their outreach efforts.

“The whole idea is to develop the confidence that we know what we’re doing,” she has said of using the suites to entertain businesses.

But both have said friends and family members also have used the suites — an arrangement that wasn’t considered when the Legislature approved the $500 million in public money for the stadium’s construction, which cost a total of $1.1 billion. That has some lawmakers raising questions about unseemly perks for public officials. The suites in question sell for between $200,000 and $300,000 for each of the Vikings’ 10 home games.

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles told the newspaper Wednesday he hopes to finish an investigation into the control and access of the two suites by January.

“I consider this an important issue and will make it a priority,” he said. “We will do this with complete independence; legislators will not see results until we issue a public report.”

Kelm-Helgen did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment on the audit, nor did the office of Gov. Mark Dayton, who appointed the authority chair.

One of the stadium’s foremost champions, Sen. Julie Rosen, a powerful Republican who helped secure legislative approval of the stadium in 2012, called the authority’s use of two suites “ugly government” that merits swift action from the Legislature.

“The public needs accountability and right now there is no accountability,” she said. “Right now, it’s apparent they’re trying to hide something.”

Several public officials paid back the authority $200 for previous games after the newspaper inquired about the use of free suites. That list includes: Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and her husband Gary Cunningham; Minneapolis city attorney Susan Segal and her husband, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans; and City Council Member Jacob Frey.