Civic beat // As stadium bill moves forward, city residents get their chance to speak up

As a bill to fund a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis made its way through the Minnesota Legislature in April, city residents finally got their chance to weigh in the proposals at two community forums and a public hearing at City Hall. 

The hearings showed a city divided on the issue, with some residents telling Mayor R.T. Rybak not to use city sales tax money for a sports stadium, and others telling the City Council that Minneapolis needs to keep the Vikings. 

Following an April 24 public hearing, the City Council voted 7–6 to add a publicly funded Vikings stadium to its Legislative agenda. It’s not a formal approval of the stadium proposal, but it does signal that Rybak has enough votes to pass the measure. 

Meanwhile, at the Legislature, multiple House and Senate committees held hearings on the bill and there was talk that both houses could vote before May 1, about three weeks before the session is scheduled to end. 

At an early April forum at Lake Nokomis Community Center, about 100 residents showed up to learn about the proposal and to weigh in.

The forum was largely civil, although a few small arguments broke out. 

Rybak spoke for about 10 minutes, mainly selling the stadium proposal as a way to lower property taxes and invest in the city’s core. He began by taking written questions, but after answering a handful of them, decided to open it up to the crowd. 

Dann Dobson stood up and read from the city’s charter, which ignited debate among attendees. 

Dobson, 61, is an attorney and lobbyist who lives in St. Paul. He said the city charter clearly states that city resources should not go toward a sports facility. 

“It’s quite clear,” Dobson said afterward. “It says the city of Minneapolis shall use no city resources [on sports facilities].”

Dobson and others — some holding red and white “Stop Stadium Taxes” signs — said the proposal was not a good use of city money. 

“It’s not a good use of public dollars,” he said. “Here we are taking $900 million of public dollars and diverting it to a billionaire.”

Anita Martinez, 51, of Nokomis East, agreed the funding strategy has its flaws, but said it presents the best way to get union workers back on the job.  

“The state Legislature is controlled by Republicans who don’t want to spend any money on jobs for any reason,” she said. “So I see it as the only thing we can get from a Republican state Legislature right now.” 

Paul McKitrick, 58, is salesman who lives in the Ericsson neighborhood. He said professional sports add to the vibrancy of the Twin Cities. 

“If the Vikings leave … Have you been to Des Moines? Have you been to Omaha? I mean, it’s not fun there,” he said. 

McKitrick said Rybak’s plan would lower property taxes by using sales taxes to fund the Target Center. 

“My property taxes are too high,” he said. “I don’t like that. This is lowering my property tax. The mayor was clear on that. This is money that comes out of peoples’ pockets who come to Minneapolis to spend money in the bars and restaurants and hotels.”

Catherine Turner says she wants to see a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis, but says the city is getting a bad deal. 

Turner, a 32-year-old attorney from the Kingfield neighborhood, said she would prefer funding from tax revenues from slot machines at Canterbury racetrack — a proposal known as Racino. 

“Unfortunately, in America, it’s a lot of keeping up with the Joneses,” Turner said. “You have to keep up with other cities in the country and the region, and to be on that same elite level, you have to have all the bells and whistles, and that includes a stadium.

“I think that there was a better way to fund it, and I think the deal they negotiated was a disappointment.”

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