Dozens of Minnesotans today weighed in on the prospects of a new stadium for the Vikings. Everyone from legislative committee chairs to bird watchers offered their opinions on what to do about a new home for the Vikings at a first-of-its-kind hearing at the Capitol.
The debate over a Vikings stadium has been ongoing for nearly a year, but in some ways today's meeting marked the official kickoff. A joint Senate tax and local government committee hearing was the first time any lawmakers sat down publicly together to talk about the stadium.
Chanhassen Republican Julianne Ortman, who chaired the hearing, wasn't promising any resolution.
"Today is about a status check. We're going to do a little fact finding. We're going to figure where we're at with the stadium proposals we've heard about," Ortman said. "Today's testimony should be directed to the site, the proposed sites that are being considered."
Senators sounded disappointed in the progress on a stadium away from the Capitol.
Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina told Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak that he didn't think the city is making a serious bid to keep the team.
"You're coming late, and you have three ideas. If you've got three, you've really got none. So I would encourage you to come forward with one," Michel said. "Get clear with your numbers, and I would also say, or ask, what are you waiting for? Get together with the Vikings. Get to the table with the people you need.''
Vikings team vice president Lester Bagley reluctantly agreed during the hearing to sit down again with Minneapolis officials, but he said the team has spent months negotiating with Ramsey County officials and vetting their plan in Arden HIlls.
"We think it's important to stick with a local partner that sticks with us. And we're doing our best to honor our agreement with our willing partner, Ramsey County," Bagley said.
Lawmakers were hardly more inclined towards the Ramsey County site. Earlier this fall, legislators ruled out the sales tax increase the county proposed to help pay for a new stadium. Ortman told Ramsey County Comissioner Tony Bennett that the county might have to come up with as much as $350 million.
Tuesday's hearing also marked the first time the public got to weigh in on the stadium.
“You're coming late, and you have three ideas. If you've got three, you've really got none.”Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina to Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak
Larry Spooner of Plymouth was decked out in purple and gold and wearing a Vikings cap.
"I went to Green Bay three weeks ago, hung out in a Kmart parking lot. Had funner than I had in any weekend in Minneapolis," Spooner said. "I prefer the Arden Hills site for one reason. There's enough room to do the two 'ables' — tailgatable and retractable roof."
Others said the Vikings ought to pay for their facility like Medtronic or any other corporation. Some suggested that the state ought to simply tell the Vikings to play in the Metrodome or leave.
Retired University of Minnesota professor Ben Zimmerman said the Audubon society considers the area around the Arden Hills site a bird sanctuary.
"I'm sure not everybody loves birds, but there are many of us that do and are worried about what chaos and what possible destruction might occur when a huge stadium is built right next door," Zimmerman said.
A key factor in the stadium debate went largely unmentioned. State economists are scheduled to release an economic forecast Minnesota on Thursday. A historic budget deficit derailed the stadium talks in the last session, and Ortmann said that might just happen again.
"I know the Vikings said let's look at what our general fund contribution is. I think we're going to have to look at our general funds and see if there's any viability for a stadium proposal," Ortmann said. "A lot depends on that economic forecast. And that's one of the reasons these hearings were set the way they were. We could get an update on our economic status before we have any more hearings."
The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 6, when lawmakers will focus on how to pay for a stadium.