MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Public outcry over the use of luxury suites at U.S. Bank Stadium for friends and family of stadium officials raised questions about policies around the Twin Cities.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority suggested friend-and-family policies are common at other taxpayer-funded stadiums and arenas. WCCO looked at what’s in place at Target Center, Target Field, TCF Bank Stadium and Xcel Energy Center.

The U.S. Bank Stadium controversy over who uses and has access to high-priced premium suites ignited a debate over what is ethical and acceptable. Especially when taxpayer dollars helped pay for the project.

A strict new policy by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority allows suites to be used for marketing purposes only. Taxpayers contributed $500 million to the project.

The executive director answered questions from concerned lawmakers last week.

“It’s like, OK, this is a new day and I clearly heard and understood that people did not support having friends and family in these suites, even though that’s what had been done at the Dome, and even though that’s what’s done at Target Field and it’s done at the University of Minnesota and other places, but I heard it,” Michele Kelm-Helgen said.

Target Field is owned by the Minnesota Ballpark Authority. According to Executive Director Dan Kenney, it has a suite in the upper right field corner. He said the agreement for suite access for all baseball and other events predates MBA’s creation in 2006.

The five MBA Commissioners may reserve nine games. Sixteen tickets are available for each game. The same number of tickets are available to buy for other events like concerts. Food and beverage costs are the responsibility of the suite user.

“There is no count or log kept on the actual number of tickets used over the course of a season,” Kenney said.

Hennepin County paid $350 million dollars of the total cost.

TCF Bank Stadium has a designated suite for the University of Minnesota president and Office of the Board of Regents. According to a U representative the suite was included in the building plan to host key stakeholders and to build strategic relationships.

There are 96 seated tickets for the suite. Here’s the breakdown: 52 go to the board to use at their discretion. Forty-four to the President’s Office. Eight of those typically go to elected officials. There are standing invitations for the governor, lieutenant governor and the congressional delegation. Fifteen to 20 are used to invite donors and prospective donors. The rest go to key stakeholders, friends, family and staff.

The food and beverage cost is split between the board and president’s offices.  We’re told no taxpayer or tuition money is used. The state funded $137 million of the stadium cost.

The city of Minneapolis owns Target Center. The city of St. Paul owns Xcel Energy Center. Neither has a suite policy and city employees pay for tickets like anyone else. Independent management companies operate the facilities. We’re told they don’t have to disclose how and when tickets are used.

AEG manages Target Center. A representative for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx told WCCO, “If suites are unsold, they may be used to advance the business goals and objectives of the franchise.” Between the cost to buy and renovations, the city has invested roughly $150 million dollars.

St. Paul Arena Company, the management company that operates Xcel Energy Center, said it does use unused suites for marketing purposes to attract new business. The Xcel’s vice president and general manager said the X takes its responsibility to St. Paul and the community “very seriously.” He said the oversight structure is significantly different than U.S. Bank Stadium because suites are not managed by a public authority. The project cost the city and state around $52 million.

Jennifer Mayerle

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