"The proposal for a new, multi-purpose stadium is dead and the reason is that taxpayers are unwilling to sign a blank check. We're interested in having the Vikings stay. But the question is: What is the price?"
Who said it: Amy Koch? Tim Pawlenty? John Marty? Mark Dayton? No. The words came from St. Paul Sen. John Chenoweth - nearly 40 years ago - as lawmakers and Vikings team owners wrangled over building what would become the Metrodome.
Read through the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission history of the Metrodome and it's stunning how the current rhetoric over a new stadium matches up almost exactly with the same battles in the 1970s, including the dire predictions of Gov. Wendell Anderson in 1975 that the Vikings (and Minnesota Twins) would leave without passage of stadium legislation to replace Metropolitan Stadium.
Here we are again. Thursday is Dayton's deadline for stadium plans. The Vikings Metrodome lease has expired. The vexing issue: How to pay for the public portion of a new stadium.
Q: What are the proposals?
A: The Vikings say Arden Hills in the northern suburbs remains their preference. This looked like the best chance a couple months ago, with owner Zygi Wilf committing up to $425 million for a $1.1 billion stadium, Ramsey County kicking in $350 million through a half cent sales tax and the state scrounging up $300 million. Things unraveled when lawmakers insisted Ramsey County put the sales tax to a vote. Rather than face the inevitable no vote, Ramsey County officials pulled back. The plan is still there but the state would have to come up with about $650 million.
Minneapolis has stepped in with stadium proposals for three sites, two near Target Field and one that would tear down the Metrodome and rebuild on the spot. These would run between $900 million to $1 billion. The Vikings in recent weeks have warmed to the Minneapolis sites, though they say they wouldn't put up as much of their own money to fund them. They also argue costs for the Metrodome site would run nearly $70 million morethan current projections.
Stadium boosters in Shakopee this week said they planned a last minute bid to build a Vikings stadium, but that's more than a long shot at this point.
Q: What's on the table to pay the public's portion?
A: It's easier to say what's off the table: general fund money. That's been taken off completely. And given what happened in Ramsey County, a local tax increase without a voter referendum won't happen either.
Practically speaking, gambling is the only way to raise the cash needed and win the votes required. Officials have kicked around electronic pull tabs, a Vikings lottery game and a casino at the Block E entertainment area in Minneapolis. But racinos - slots at the region's two horse racing tracks - are the most palatable idea. Advocates say racinos would raise more than $140 million a year, enough to pay for the public's portions of a Vikings stadium and help pay for public schools.
The idea got a big boost recently when Senate Republicans named Dave Senjem of Rochester as their new leader. He's been a big supporter of a Vikings stadium and has backed racino legislation.
Still detractors hate the idea of paying for a stadium with gambling money, contending that gambling does long term financial damage to many Minnesota families. Minnesota's Indian casinos also oppose the racino idea and are a powerful political force at the Legislature.
Q: What happens next?
A: All the stadium proposals are due to Gov. Dayton by the end of Thursday. He plans to "act to make one of them a reality" in the upcoming legislative session.
"I think the facts will speak for themselves in large part," Dayton said last week. "I think one (proposal) will show probably to be a better option than the other or the others, and that will facilitate everyone's decision."
With one plan, the battle over financing and votes can finally take place. And the question Chenoweth asked nearly 40 years ago about the Metrodome - what is the price? - can finally be put up for discussion on a new stadium.