Nov 29, 2023 - Sports

Wild officials pitch lawmakers on $300 million renovation of Xcel Energy Center

xcel energy center arena from the outside

Xcel Energy Center opened in 2000. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Minnesota Wild officials are continuing to lay the groundwork to seek state aid for a major renovation of Xcel Energy Center that could cost upwards of $300 million.

Driving the news: DFL state Sen. Sandy Pappas, who chairs the Senate Capital Investment Committee, confirmed to Axios on Tuesday that she recently met with Wild owner Craig Leipold and a top St. Paul official about the team's plans.

Why it matters: The preliminary talks set the stage for a debate about whether β€” and to what extent β€” the state should subsidize renovations of a 23-year-old arena that was built using more than $130 million in state and local funding.

What we're hearing: Pappas, who represents downtown St. Paul, said team officials haven't said how much of the total price tag β€” estimated to be $200 to $300 million β€” they'd seek from the state.

  • "They're in competition with other local arenas that are newer," the St. Paul Democrat said of the pitch for the venue, which also hosts concerts and other events. "They want to keep up with ... the amenities [fans] are interested in having."

Zoom in: Potential upgrades include additional group seating options, new bathrooms, and better back-of-house facilities, she said.

  • Redevelopment of the surrounding area, including a parking ramp and new space for restaurants, also came up in the conversations.

What they're saying: The Wild, which recently hired a former state agency head as its lobbyist, responded to Axios' questions about an ask for state aid with a previously released statement saying the team is "assessing our facilities and seeking feedback from users to determine what upgrades may be needed in the coming years."

A spokesperson for Carter, meanwhile, said the mayor "has begun engaging state leaders" alongside the team to ensure the arena is "well positioned to remain a vibrant cultural hub that welcomes millions of visitors to our city for decades to come."

  • "While neither the precise scope nor cost of a comprehensive update has yet been finalized, it is expected to be significant, with similar projects of this scale often reaching hundreds of millions of dollars," the spokesperson said.

State of play: It's unclear whether the team will seek aid next session given that the plans still appear to be in the early stages. Inclusion in the public construction borrowing package that Pappas is tasked with putting together next spring could be a tough sell given the timing.

  • "It's coming up pretty quick and there's a lot of stiff competition," Pappas said of the billions of dollars in existing requests for the upcoming bonding bill. "We have a lot of infrastructure needs."

Between the lines: The idea of using bonding dollars to pay for the renovations also got an icy reception from Republicans, whose votes are needed to approve a borrowing package.

  • "Minnesota loves the Wild. We're the state of hockey. So, it's not that we don't want hockey in the state," House Assistant Minority Leader Nolan West told KSTP. "It's just, this isn't an appropriate use of bonding dollars for a private entity."

Of note: Building Xcel, which is owned by St. Paul and operated by the Wild's parent company, was seen as key to attracting an NHL expansion team back to the city after the North Stars left in 1993.

  • The venue falls in the middle of the pack for both age and rankings of best NHL arenas, per MinnPost.

What we're watching: The Wild might not be the only pro sports team seeking funds from the state in coming years. The new owners of the Timberwolves have also signaled interest in building a new arena.

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