The Minnesota Vikings ran into some of their most serious opposition yet on Monday night in their decade-long drive to get a new home for the NFL franchise in Minnesota on Monday night. A key state House committee rejected their proposal for a nearly $1 billion downtown Minneapolis stadium.
Lawmakers questioned everything from the financing to the zoning procedures detailed in the team's plan. And after a four-hour grilling, legislators from both parties lined up against it in a 9-6 "no" vote.
Republican bill sponsor Morrie Lanning, of Moorhead, later said the vote all but killed a Vikings stadium for this legislative session.
"Somebody would have to pull a rabbit out of a hat for this to be able to continue to be considered," he said.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley was grasping for what to do next.
"We've done everything we've been asked. We negotiated in good faith. We've been patient. We put a package together that met the parameters that we were asked. A bill that doesn't raise taxes, that doesn't use general fund dollars. A bill that has the Vikings in for half of the costs. I guess I would ask the state, 'What else would you expect us to do?'"
Lawmakers offered a long list of concerns during the hearing.
The most serious came from committee chair Joyce Peppin, a Republican from Rogers. She asked Minneapolis City Council president Barbara Johnson whether the city's $150 million dollar pledge to help finance the stadium plan didn't violate a limit set by voters in 1997. The Minneapolis city charter requires a referendum on sports expenditures of more than $10 million.
"I'm just wanting to hear a little bit on what your feeling is on the charter and what it means. Or maybe it doesn't mean anything since it has been overriden 20 times. Maybe it should just be thrown away. Because it seems like the city isn't standing up for the taxpayers that they represent," she said.
The city contends that revenue pledged to the stadium project will come from state-imposed sales taxes, and thus it isn't subject to the charter cap. But at Peppin's suggestion, the committee stripped out a provision in the bill that would have explicitly exempted the deal from approval by Minneapolis voters.
DFLers also asked pointed questions.
"Right now we're kind of negotiating in the dark," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley. He told Vikings officials he was troubled that taxpayers couldn't know what the Vikings stood to gain in the deal.
"From a public taxpayers standpoint, I don't think we have very much information about the kind of position you are in and the need for this subsidy," he said. "Is there a reason that we can't get more information?" he asked.
The Vikings declined to open their books, but said that officials that had seen them would confirm they're not making money now.
Taxpayers at the hearing also criticized the stadium plan, objecting repeatedly to the plan to redirect hospitality taxes from the city's convention center to the Vikings stadium.
Michael Katch said the stadium plan hit people like him hardest.
"I live in downtown Minneapolis, and I and 30,000 of my neighbors will be paying the bulk of these sales taxes. As a matter of fact, I was certainly hoping we would see sales tax relief once the convention center bonds are paid off. Obviously extending out these bonds for another 25 years means we will not see sales tax relief in Minneapolis in my lifetime," he said.
The hearing also brought out an unprecedented show of support for the stadium plan. Union advocates said the stadium would mean thousands of jobs for the construction industry, and hundreds of new hospitality jobs in the stadium itself. And Target Corp. Vice President John Griffith offered an endorsement as well.
"Over the last 12 months, Target has added more than 400 jobs to downtown Minneapolis. These are strong, well-paying headquarters jobs. We are attracting people from the strongest colleges and universities locally, as well as all across America. They come to Minneapolis to be a part of a first class city," he said.
That endorsement wasn't enough to help the stadium last night.