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Dayton praises move to limit free stadium suite access

This is the front of U.S. Bank Stadium, as seen in late June 2016, home to Minnesota Vikings games and other events, large and small. Submitted photo from Minnesota Vikings

ST. PAUL — The state entity that owns the new U.S. Bank Stadium is moving in the right direction in banning free luxury suite tickets for its officials' family and friends in Gov. Mark Dayton's view.

"I think it is a very responsible way to resolve the matter," he said Tuesday, Dec. 13, after the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority announced it is working on a revised policy following Minneapolis Star Tribune stories revealing family and friends of authority officials received free access to a pair of luxury boxes.

Some state and University of Minnesota officials also were given free tickets to the suites, and have repaid the state. Officials who obtained free tickets for family and friends are in the process of repaying, the authority says.

While insisting they only were following long-standing policy — and that of other sports facilities around the country — authority leaders drew up a new policy banning the practice. The authorities' board will vote on the policy Friday.

The authority has released the names of state officials, family and friends who were admitted to the suites. However, they said they will continue to keep private the names of potential U.S. Bank Stadium clients they invite to the suites.

"The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority is entrusted by the public to ensure that its investment in U.S. Bank Stadium is well-maintained and meets the intended purposes for building and operating a world-class multi-use facility," authority Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and Executive Director Ted Mondale said in a prepared statement. "One of those purposes is attracting sports and entertainment events like the Super Bowl, NCAA Men's Final Four and the X Games to the region. Suites are a critical tool to persuade event organizers and site selectors to bring their conventions, shows and sporting events to Minnesota."

Mondale and Kelm-Helgen said their policy had been similar to those at facilities used by the Minnesota Twins baseball team, Wild hockey team and Timberwolves and Lynx basketball teams.

Dayton said it is time to examine those policies as well. "I think this warrants a look at the entire spectrum of what's going on."

State Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles says he is investigating the situation.

The governor said he hopes that there also is a probe into whether state legislators reimburse corporations when they are invited to company suites.

Dayton said he bought six tickets with his own money when he attended a Vikings game against the Green Bay Packers this fall, like when he attends Minnesota Lynx Women's National Basketball Association games.

He said he purchased tickets in the student section at a University of Minnesota football game. He was invited to the president's suite to talk, the governor said, but it was not a good place to watch a game and returned to his seat.

"I would rather, frankly, hang out with the students," Dayton said.

The governor also said he accepted a ticket from Chief Justice Lori Gildea when they attended a University of Minnesota women's hockey game together, but knows of no law that would forbid that.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.