In the 23 years since Xcel Energy Center opened in downtown St. Paul, it has pumped hundreds of millions each year into Minnesota's economy while making the capital city a regional hockey, concert and convention hub.
Now, officials with the city and the Minnesota Wild say their aging arena needs to get some of that cash back.
In the next few weeks, they plan to put the finishing touches on a request for state help — either through bonding, tapping the state's budget surplus or turning to some other means — to help modernize the facility and meet the demands of a new generation of fans.
Officials are not yet ready to say how much the project would cost. However, St. Paul Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher said they anticipate "an arena renovation will cost several hundred million [dollars], based on similar renovations to arenas around the country. It gives us a good starting point."
The project is expected to include renovations to the adjacent RiverCentre and parking ramp, as well as a bridge along Kellogg Boulevard.
According to news reports, recent renovations to State Farm Arena in Atlanta cost $200 million, and Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis was updated at a cost of $360 million. The price tag for renovating Milwaukee's Deer District, a mixed-use downtown development anchored by Fiserv Forum, was $524.1 million.
A statement from Gov. Tim Walz's office about state help for the Xcel arena was noncommittal: "We will use the November forecast to determine the size and scope of this year's infrastructure bill. We will review hundreds of requests in that process — we have not received a proposal or dollar figure to consider for this project, but we look forward to reviewing once we do."
State Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, who represents downtown, seemed skeptical.
"When discussing the proposed Xcel Center project, it's important to keep the broader context of this year's bonding needs in mind," Pappas said in an email Friday. "I've had a preliminary meeting with the Wild, and they seem to be in early stages — they are still surveying their fans about what kind of amenities they would like."
Pappas said nearly 300 projects across Minnesota — from clean water to working roads — need state help. In a discussion with Wild officials, she said, "I told them the amount they are looking for is likely more than could be accommodated in a crowded bonding bill."
St. Paul officials, however, are undeterred. They said the state long ago set a precedent for partnering with local governments to build and improve arenas and stadiums. Still to be determined is how much the state, city and team will be asked to contribute, Tincher said.
"We will put together the final numbers in the next couple of weeks," she said.
When asked if they will seek help through the state's bonding bill, budget surplus or another funding mechanism — such as electronic pulltabs — Tincher said: "We want to be open to and flexible about and around how that can be financed among the three entities."
A state and regional asset
From state high school tournaments to Frozen Fours, big-name concerts to high-flying circuses, hundreds of events held each year at Xcel, RiverCentre and Roy Wilkins Auditorium bring money into city and state coffers, officials say.
Nicolle Goodman, St. Paul's Planning and Economic Development director, said events at Xcel Energy Center and the rest of the city's RiverCentre complex generate $493 million in total economic impact — such as spending at bars and restaurants and on lodging.
In March 2022, Xcel hosted the state high school wrestling and hockey tournaments, and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff; concerts by Elton John, Billie Eilish and Journey; and 12 Wild games. John McCarthy, city financial services director, said that month the city collected nearly $31 million in sales taxes it returned to the state and $2.2 million in local sales tax revenue, making it the highest single month of sales tax collections on record for St. Paul's existing 0.5% sales tax.
"When Xcel is really busy, we have really strong months in sales tax collections," McCarthy said.
But while the arena has been well-maintained and remains an attractive concert venue, city and Wild officials say it's time to look at upgrades. What those might be are not yet known, but the NHL team is asking its fans and other users about what kinds of improvements they want to see.
"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," the team said in a statement.
Rebecca Noecker, who represents downtown on the City Council, said the council has not yet discussed an Xcel proposal. But Wild officials are talking about improving the area around the arena as part of a downtown revitalization plan, she said.
"I am really excited by what I have heard," Noecker said.
Paying for improvements should be a partnership among the city, state and team, she said. Given the state helped with U.S Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and other facilities, she added, "No way should St. Paul be expected to go it alone."
Joe Spencer, president of the St. Paul Downtown Alliance, which has convened a subcommittee looking at downtown investment and improvement, said the arena is more than a magnet for just St. Paul.
"Xcel is important to the state and the region," he said. "It's not inappropriate to look at the hundreds of millions of dollars the state has poured into arenas across Minnesota to make the case that St. Paul is deserving."
And Xcel Energy Center, Spencer said, is a facility that's critical to the state.
"Hockey is part of who we are as Minnesotans; it's been proven year in and year out," he said. "The capital city having a priority arena for the state's top sport seems a no-brainer."
B Kyle, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, said she has not yet seen details about what St. Paul and the Wild are seeking. But she said she looked forward to hearing more about it.
"We know the Xcel Energy Center has a powerful economic impact on our region and our downtown as a destination for people across Minnesota," she said.
Dave Cossetta, owner of Cossetta's on W. 7th Street, said Xcel pumped new life into downtown when it opened. Arena improvements "will keep it going in the right direction," he said.
Kathy Gosiger, general manager of Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub, agreed with Cossetta that any Xcel improvements would be beneficial.
"The more they can do to this beautiful entertainment area, the better," she said.