Sights set on stadium deal

$975-million plan faces a skeptical City Council

The long, winding road to build a new Vikings stadium appears to end almost exactly where it started: the Metrodome.

Even though proposals had the Vikings playing in Duluth, Shakopee and Arden Hills, and even though leaders entertained thoughts of paying for a new stadium with a Downtown casino, slot machines at race tracks and beer taxes, a deal reached on March 1 has the team playing in a familiar place and the City of Minneapolis picking up a sizeable portion of the tab.

Gov. Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and other state leaders unveiled a $975-million plan to keep the Vikings playing Downtown through at least 2046.

When operating costs are added to construction costs, the stadium plan totals nearly $1.5 billion, including a $737-million public subsidy from the city and state.

Absent from the March 1 stadium deal announcement were any members of the Minneapolis City Council and Republican leaders in the state Legislature. A stadium deal hinges on the support of both.

“Every single politician is now going to have to make a tough decision, and the decision is really about the question of what are we going to be as a state,” Rybak said. “This is a great state that is only a great state because we have made investments that make this a great place to live.”

Technically, the stadium plan does not raise Minneapolis taxes. It only ensures that existing sales taxes remain through 2046. Those existing sales taxes include a 3-percent charge on Downtown restaurants and bars, a 2.6-percent tax on lodging and a citywide 0.5-percent sales tax.

Currently, those tax revenues pay debt and expenses on the Minneapolis Convention Center. Once the Convention Center is paid off, more money will become available for a Vikings stadium as well as for renovations and expenses at the city-owned Target Center.

Three Minnesota Senators released a stadium bill in mid-March that would allow the Minneapolis City Council to bypass a City Charter provision that requires a referendum for stadium subsidies over $10 million.

That means Rybak would need seven of 13 City Council members to vote for the stadium deal. At least seven members have already publicly indicated that they would not support bypassing the referendum requirement, but that was prior to the release of the plan’s details.

Those details didn’t change Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman’s mind.

Goodman said in an email that she still doesn’t support the stadium deal. She said the city should already be able to use sales tax revenues for the Target Center, but the city can’t do it while also funding the Convention Center.

The Target Center is a key piece of the deal for Rybak. Currently, the city is pumping several million dollars each year from property taxpayers into the facility. Rybak has promised 2-percent annual property tax levy reductions if the deal passes.  

“There is absolutely no scenario whatsoever in which we will approve the Vikings piece unless the Target Center solution is possible,” Rybak said.

Early indications show Downtown neighborhood groups are supportive of the idea.

“Elliot Park Neighborhood and the rest of the Downtown East community would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the city and the Vikings on building a truly multi-use stadium facility that will include significant public and green spaces as well as attract further investment and development to the district,” said David Fields, community development coordinator for the Elliot Park Neighborhood.

Stadium plan gains clarity

While a plan for a stadium near the existing Metrodome has been talked about for several weeks, a term sheet released on March 1 gives some much-needed clarity.

The new stadium would have a fixed roof and seat 65,000 fans. Construction would begin following the 2012–2013 Vikings season. The first part of the stadium would be built just east of the Metrodome in 2013 and 2014.

In 2015 the Metrodome would be demolished and crews would build the remaining portion of the stadium while the Vikings play one season at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. The new stadium, barring setbacks, would open for the 2016 Vikings season.

Rybak said the new site would not affect the Minnesota Gateway Data Center, 511 11th Ave. S., a telecommunications hub located just east of the Dome.

The state’s portion of the funding would total $398 million and be paid with revenue from allowing the sale of electronic pulltabs.

If the cost of building the stadium exceeds $975 million, the city and the state would be on the hook for overages. A new Stadium Authority made up of three state-appointed members and two city-appointed members would own the stadium.

The stadium would not pay property taxes and neither would any shops or restaurants on the grounds.

There is no guarantee that after building a stadium the National Football League would grant Minneapolis a future Super Bowl.

In the past 10 years, nine cities have opened NFL stadiums. Of those nine, six of them have either hosted a Super Bowl or will host an upcoming Super Bowl. The three markets that did not get a Super Bowl — New England, Philadelphia and Seattle — built outdoor stadiums in cold-climate cities. Detroit and Indianapolis are such cities, but they built indoor stadiums and have hosted recent Super Bowls.

The plan calls for increased tailgating, including at lots near light rail stations.

The terms also mention that Vikings ownership is interested in bringing a Major League Soccer team to Minneapolis, and that the franchise would play in the new Vikings stadium.

What’s next?    

Rybak says the city cannot vote on bypassing a referendum until the Legislature acts. But he said the City Council would need to give the Legislature a sign of support before a stadium bill moves forward. That could come in the form of a non-binding resolution.

“While the city doesn’t have to act before the Legislature, it’s clear to me that we need to demonstrate our support, and so we’re exploring ways to get that done,” Rybak said.

Dayton said he plans to reach out to the City Council members to gain support.  

He also said he wants both the Senate and House to take up or down votes during the 2012 legislative session that ends in May.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) hasn’t been as supportive of a vote.

Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead) will author the stadium bill in the House.

“The time has come for Minnesota to make a decision,” Lanning said.

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