The Minnesota Wild will be staying in St. Paul for a long time.
The professional hockey team is extending their lease at the Xcel Energy Center through 2035 — a decade longer than previously agreed to.
“This is our city, and we’re proud of it,” Wild owner and chairman Craig Leipold said Tuesday during a media event at the Xcel Energy Center to mark the continuation of the partnership. “We are St. Paul. Most of our people live in St. Paul. …We believe in the city.”
The new lease agreement with the city is already underway — it became effective April 8 — but St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter used the opportunity to highlight the economic impact of some 2 million visitors to the X each year.
“Let’s press on with our work to bring the Stanley Cup to St. Paul,” the mayor said.
Among the benefits of the lease extension for the Wild, their rent to the city will drop by more than half — falling from nearly $9 million per year to just upward of $3.5 million. City officials said the city will not lose money, as those rents pay off the construction bonds that allowed the X to open in September 2000.
The city last month renegotiated the interest rates on $48 million in Xcel-related bonds on the team’s behalf, extending the repayment over a longer period of time rather than the next six years of the original lease.
Jeff Pellegrom, the team’s chief financial officer, said the team shouldered the highest lease payments of all 31 National Hockey League teams in 2000, while teams in comparable NHL markets pay rents between $3.5 million and $3.8 million annually. The new lease will bring the Wild into that range.
In terms of benefits to St. Paul, the Wild do more than just play hockey downtown. The organization manages the Xcel Center, the adjoining St. Paul RiverCentre convention center and the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, conference and event arenas that generate some $9.7 million annually in sales tax for the city just from tickets and concessions.
Those numbers don’t include money spent by visitors on hotels, bars and other recreation.
In addition, the team pays more than 80 percent of all principal and interest payments on the loans that built the Xcel Energy Center, and that arrangement will continue under the 10-year lease extension.
The team also pays some $2 million annually in maintenance. St. Paul pays the remaining 15 to 20 percent of loan principal and interest from its half-cent sales tax.
PARKING RAMP BLUES
The Wild may skate in a fan-favorite facility, but it’s an elder statesmen compared with arenas constructed throughout the Twin Cities since the opening of TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota in 2009.
Allianz Field, the new home of Minnesota United, hosted its first Major League Soccer game last weekend, and the Minnesota Vikings, St. Paul Saints, Minnesota Twins and U of M Gophers football all play in facilities built over the last decade.
Leipold said the team’s original lease agreement with the city would have wrapped up in 2025, but the team wanted to take a hard look at the city-owned RiverCentre parking ramp across Kellogg Boulevard and other issues knowing that the Wild would benefit from any financial investments in the long run.
At no time during lease negotiations did the team suggest relocating to another city, he said.
“There were never any threats,” Leipold said. “There are things that we are going to be looking at long-term.”
All 2,200 stalls in the 50-year-old parking ramp were closed off last May when a section of ceiling fell on a parked car during a concert. The ramp was reopened in stages, but did not fully come back online until November, or at least eight games into the Wild season.
Beyond a brief mention of the aging parking ramp, however, Leipold did not elaborate on the types of potential improvements or considerations that triggered the lease renegotiation.
Since 2014, the team has replaced the arena’s video scoreboard and seating, among other upkeep, using loan funds forgiven by the state of Minnesota as part of the same arrangement that funded a new stadium for the Vikings in Minneapolis.
“The maintenance has always been the team’s responsibility, and it will only be the team’s responsibility,” Leipold said.
Pellegrom, the team’s chief financial officer, said the X’s large, open-air outer lobby, concourse and sight lines have aged well and proved to be a model for other facilities. The team may add more club-level seating, he said, “but it’s a hockey building.”
“We don’t want to chop it up too much,” Pellegrom said.
“The building doesn’t feel 20 years old to me,” Pellegrom added. “There’s nothing wrong with a 20-year-old building if it feels like this.”
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