Minnesota Wild seek state support for improvements to the Xcel Energy Center

In downtown St. Paul, the Minnesota Wild are scouting out prospects for major improvements to the Xcel Energy Center.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter joined Wild owner Craig Leipold in a sit-down meeting with Gov. Tim Walz in late October to broach the subject, as first reported by MinnPost, though it’s unclear if the trio discussed the possibility of city or state funding or if any specific dollar amounts were floated.

Around the same time, Jim Schowalter, the recent former manager of the state’s Management and Budget agency, registered as a state lobbyist on behalf of the Minnesota Hockey Ventures Group, listing the subject areas of “capital bonding” and “sports facilities.”

Also listed in the group is the Wild’s chief financial officer Jeff Pellegrom and William Huepenbecker, director of planning and public affairs for the St. Paul RiverCentre. Former state Sen. Roger Moe and public affairs consultant Maureen Shaver have been registered with the group since 2011.

On Wednesday, officials with the Minnesota Wild declined interview requests, but issued an unsigned written statement indicating they were in the process of surveying fans about the visitor experience.

“It’s been almost 25 years since Xcel Energy Center was built, so we are assessing our facilities and seeking feedback from users to determine what upgrades may be needed in the coming years,” they wrote. “From concerts to hockey games, we know that the ways visitors experience our facilities have changed since our arena was built in 2000, and we look forward to hearing from people through the survey.”

‘A staple entertainment and event space’

Also Wednesday, Carter’s office issued a written statement sounding a similar tune.

“The X has served as a staple entertainment and event space, bringing millions of people to St. Paul for over 20 years,” said the mayor, in the statement. “As the building ages, we are committed to working with the Wild to envision and ensure the arena’s long-term success.”

The X — which opened its doors in September 2000 — launched with a pre-season game between the then newly-minted National Hockey League franchise and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Since then, it’s become a thriving sports and concert venue adjoining the city’s RiverCentre convention center.

The construction price tag at the time was $170 million, and the venue instantly cemented itself as a magnet for visitors to downtown St. Paul, drawing sellout crowds for 409 consecutive games over its first nine seasons. It continues to host 150 sporting and entertainment events annually, attracting some 1.7 million fans each year.

The inaugural year drew a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Disney on Ice, the Barenaked Ladies, the Dixie Chicks, a Christmas pageant, a state high school league volleyball tournament and the Harlem Globetrotters, among other events.

Improvements, TIF district

As hockey stadiums go, the X is hardly the youngest nor the oldest, with 20 of the 32 NHL arenas being older. Like the X, Nationwide Arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, opened in 2000, and 10 NHL arenas have opened since. The eldest, Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Rangers, opened in 1968. The newest, the Arizona Coyotes’ Mullet Arena, opened in 2022.

Arguably more pressing than improvements to the stadium itself is the condition of the badly-aging RiverCentre parking ramp, which also serves the X. The ramp was closed for months beginning in May of 2018 after a concrete slab fell on a parked car. No one was injured, and the ramp was reopened in stages from July to November of that year.

St. Paul won legislative approval last year to extend the life of a controversial downtown “tax increment financing” district by 10 years to the year 2033, with the goal of pooling large segments of property tax proceeds from 21 downtown blocks into $38 million of construction improvements to the RiverCentre, Xcel Energy Center and the convention center parking ramp. Ramsey County exempted itself from the arrangement, choosing to continue to collect its own tax payments.

The reworked TIF district won’t generate sufficient funds to replace the poorly-aging parking ramp on its own, but officials said at the time it will provide the facilities with a dedicated funding source for roof repairs, technology upgrades and other costs.

In 2019, the Wild’s Leipold made a public commitment to keep the team at the X through at least the year 2035, a decade longer than previously agreed to, in exchange for a steep break in rent. City officials said at the time that St. Paul would not lose money on the arrangements as the rents pay off construction bonds whose repayment terms had been renegotiated.

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