Mpls. City Council critical of Rybak's stadium plan

Mayor R.T. Rybak
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak discussed the proposed Vikings stadium sites in Minneapolis during a Senate stadium hearing at the Capitol in November 2011. Now narrowed down to the Metrodome site, Rybak explained his funding plan to the Minneapolis City Council on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak got a warm reception when he pitched a Vikings stadium plan at the Capitol on Tuesday, but received a chilly homecoming when he presented the plan to the Minneapolis City Council Thursday morning.

Rybak explained to a City Council committee that Target Center is really behind his bid to keep the Vikings at the Metrodome site. "The single-largest driver that can lower property taxes significantly in this city, besides obviously our spending and local government aid, is getting Target Center off of our property tax rolls," he said.

It's a complicated financial formula that links the arena and the stadium. Sales, bar, restaurant and hotel taxes bring in about $50 million a year for Minneapolis. Most of that — about $30 million — is pledged to pay off the mortgage for the city's convention center through 2020.

Stadium backers at the Capitol have been eyeing that extra cash as a potential local funding source for an NFL stadium.

"I heard somebody say the convention center dollars we're talking about was a 'slush fund,' " said Rybak.

Minneapolis says the extra money is spoken for — they need it to maintain the convention center and sell the city to tourists.

But Rybak this week backed off and pledged the cash for a stadium, to keep the Vikings in town. Between $4 million and $11 million a year would go toward operating a new stadium, in lieu of a down payment on construction.

But there's a catch.

"The city does not want to participate in a football stadium unless a solution to Target Center is also there," said Mark Kaplan, a former Minneapolis city council member and now a financial consultant working on the stadium financing plans.

Minneapolis has asked him to pencil in debt service to help pay off the city's 1995 purchase of Target Center.

Rybak said help for the arena would save Minneapolis property tax payers about $5 million a year, the equivalent of a 2 percent property tax increase. And he said the city would also like to fund about $100 million in improvements to Target Center, as long as there's money moving around.

There isn't enough cash to do all that. But nonetheless, that's the spoonful of sugar he's offering the city in return for ponying up for the Vikings.

CITY COUNCILOR TO RYBAK: "THAT'S CRAZY"

But the whole idea left a bitter taste in some city council member's mouths.

"I just think that's crazy," said council member Lisa Goodman.

She told Rybak that hospitality taxes are onerous enough without turning them over to professional sports teams. She said her downtown neighbors effectively pay tourist rates in their own neighborhood because of restaurant and bar taxes in the central business district.

She also doubted the consultant's suggestion that giving up hospitality taxes would be a good trade for getting out from under the Target Center debt.

"Let's have a referendum on that," Goodman said. "I don't think the public is on your side."

Goodman also said the estimated property tax savings were "not that big." Others council members told Rybak that if Minneapolis has money to spend, it ought to go to schools, or police or some other basic service — not the Vikings.

But the most serious challenge went mostly unspoken at Thursday's hearing. Council member Gary Schiff, who was co-author of the 1997 charter referendum that capped city spending on pro sports at $10 million, said after the meeting that the city should have learned its lesson when it put money into the Target Center and shouldn't double down on a stadium.

"We can't take away the money needed to maintain the convention center in 20 years and start applying that to a new facility," Schiff said. "Otherwise we just start cannibalizing our own city infrastructure."

Rybak, though, told council members that it may be their only option.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the quote "Let's have a referendum on that ... I don't think the public is on your side." The current version is correct.

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