Audit: US Bank Stadium fund doing better than expected

Published 4:32 am Saturday, November 16, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — The reserve account used to pay off bonds that funded construction of U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings play, is exceeding expectations, according to a financial audit.

The audit projects that the 3-year-old, $1.1 billion stadium’s fund could grow from the $44 million it had at the end of June 2018 to nearly $200 million by 2023, the Star Tribune reported.

The audit increases the likelihood of the Vikings paying off the stadium’s debt early. It also puts the budding account, which is used to pay the bonds, squarely before Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Legislature’s next session, which convenes in February.

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“The time is now to make strategic decisions about the account,” Chris Buse, a deputy state legislative auditor, told a legislative audit panel on Wednesday. Buse’s 28-page document represents a comprehensive review of all money received and spent through Minnesota’s Office of Management and Budget.

The growth is fueled by revenue from electronic pulltabs that were legalized in 2012 to pay for the stadium. The pulltabs initially caught on slowly but by 2017, they brought in $200 million.

The gambling revenue covers about $30 million in yearly debt service for the state’s $348 million share of the stadium’s cost. For now, the revenue covers the Minneapolis share of the debt, which is $150 million. In addition to the debt service, the account provides another $10 million. That money covers payments to the stadium’s operating and capital improvement funds along with $3 million for St. Paul sports facilities.

Speaking at the public hearing, state Sen. Ann Rest said that given a likely recession and fluctuations in gambling profits, “paying off the debt seems to be the fiscally responsible action.”

The report found no evidence of a lawmaker’s audit-triggering claim that the Office of Management and Budget had wrongly transferred $20 million from the fund.

But Buse noted that the Office of the Legislative Auditor capitalized on the allegations to conduct a complete analysis of the stadium deal.

“We traced all the revenues. We went through all the expenditures,” he said.

Buse added that the audit was “completely clean,” calling that a rare and extraordinary outcome.