Mpls. City Council gives Rybak's stadium plan chilly reception

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak speaks to the City Council on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012 in Minneapolis, Minn.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Members of the Minneapolis City Council on Thursday debated the merits of a plan to use city sales tax dollars for a Vikings stadium at the Metrodome site.

Supporters say the deal not only keeps the Vikings in Minneapolis, but provides some property tax relief. But opponents worry if the deal avoids a public vote, it will harm public confidence in elected city leaders.

A consultant to the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission says the city could wind up borrowing close to $400 million in principal and interest for its part in a stadium.

The city would pay the money back using a portion of revenues collected from a citywide general sales tax, a lodging tax and a downtown food and liquor tax.


Under current state law, the city has to funnel most of the money from those taxes toward the upkeep of the Minneapolis Convention Center. Under the new proposal, the state would help stabilize city efforts to keep up with costs.

City Council President Barb Johnson, who co-authored the plan with Mayor R.T. Rybak, said that makes sense because the state benefits from convention center visitors.

"These existing facilities that we have need to be taken care of in our community," Johnson said. "If we do not have the Vikings in Minneapolis, we will see a reduction in those revenues for the hospitality taxes that are paid in our city. And that is a quantifiable thing."

The city's convention and visitors association, Meet Minneapolis, commissioned a study in 2010 on the economic impact of one Vikings playoff game. Research conducted by the University of Minnesota found the influx of visitors to the city helped boost sales in the Twin Cities by nearly $6 million that weekend.

Combined with home fans, the economic impact reached more than $9 million. The team plays eight home games during a regular season.


The deal would also allow the city to transfer ownership of the Target Center and its related costs to a stadium authority. Rybak said the savings from the transfer would be passed along to property taxpayers.

"What this enables us to do is to combine a series of efforts and deliver $100 million in property tax relief and make a $1 billion investment in the city," Rybak said.

But the promise of property tax relief is not enough for council members like Betsy Hodges.

"Even if I supported public funding for new sports facilities, which I do not, I would not support this plan," Hodges said.

Hodges said the plan is flawed for a number of reasons. Given the past history between the city and state when it comes to facilities like the Target Center, Hodges said this agreement doesn't guarantee the city won't be left on the hook for the stadium if legislators alter the plan in later years.


She also doesn't like the idea that the city's plan could allow the state to bypass a city charter requirement for a public vote before the city spends more than $10 million of public money for a sports stadium.

City Council President Johnson said the council has regularly asked the Legislature to bypass a different charter ordinance that requires a vote to spend more than $15 million on any public facility. She said she's not going to demand a referendum on the stadium deal because voters would reject it.

But Council member Sandy Colvin Roy said she's concerned about what voters will think if the city endorses a plan without allowing them to have a say.

"Beyond the numbers here, there may be an impact that isn't directly on our spreadsheets when it comes to trusting government," she said.

Judging by comments made during the meeting, most council members are at least skeptical of the plan. However, Rybak said he can see a path to getting the seven votes he needs for approval.

Even if the council approves the plan though, no stadium plan is pending at the State Capitol — yet.