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Vikings stadium meets skeptical Minneapolis City Council

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Rybak and other officials
Mayor R.T. Rybak, Rep. Morrie Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen take questions from the media during an announcement of a Vikings stadium deal at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, March 1, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The new Minnesota Vikings stadium deal unveiled Thursday faces a hurdle at the Minneapolis City Council, where a majority of council members have opposed similar stadium plans in the past. 

The major sticking point for a number of council members is the Minneapolis City Charter.

Seven members of the 13-member Minneapolis City Council have previously said they oppose funding for a stadium without a public referendum, which the city charter requires. That's the municipal equivalent of a constitution. Minneapolis voters amended the charter in 1997 to require voter approval before the city can spend more than $10 million to finance a professional sports facility. 

If the $975 million deal announced Thursday passes both houses of the Legislature, it would then go up for a vote in the City Council.

In order to pass the plan, which includes a total city cost of $338.7 million, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak needs to convince at least three members who are undecided or opposed to the stadium.

More on the Vikings stadium deal
• A look at the numbers in the stadium plan
• Stadium deal isn't sealed yet
• Document: Financial breakdown for stadium deal
• Facebook: Join the discussion
• Big Story Blog: Follow updates as they happen

The deal pegs the city's contribution toward the Vikings stadium at $150 million, and does not include putting the proposal up to a referendum. Polls show Minnesota voters tend to be skeptical of spending public money on stadiums.

At this point, it is unclear if the proposal has sufficient support among the council members.

Gary Schiff championed the charter amendment back when he was executive director of the political organization then-called Progressive Minnesota. Now he is a member of the City Council and he said if city money is involved, then the referendum is not negotiable.

"I could never support a plan that circumvents city law," Schiff said. "I won't break the law. I've sworn to the law as an office holder. And I'm not going to break the city charter."

Council Member Cam Gordon, who represents areas around the University of Minnesota, said he still opposes the plan because his impression is that it ignores the requirement to hold a referendum.

"I have a concern that ultimately, it's probably going to be a judge who'll have to make this decision. Apparently there's lawyers, maybe in the city, the Vikings, the governor's office, who are all working on the rationale to make the arguments that this doesn't violate the charter," Gordon said. "But there's probably other lawyers who could read the exact same rules and ordinances and statutes and say it is violating the charter, and so it may end up going to court."

Council Member Robert Lilligren said he is "philosophically opposed" to public funding for stadiums. He wants a referendum, but he stops short of vowing to vote no on the plan.

"It's clear that if the legislature wants to see this stadium plan go forward, they will need to write into legislation a way of circumventing the charter amendment," Lilligren said.

Council Member Lisa Goodman also opposes the stadium plan. Council Members Elizabeth Glidden, Sandy Colvin Roy and Betsy Hodges previously opposed the stadium plan, although they haven't yet commented on the current package. 

The city's portion of the stadium cost would be redirected from Minneapolis sales and hospitality taxes currently dedicated to the Minneapolis Convention Center. 

To sweeten the deal for the City Council, state leaders are pushing the Legislature to give the city control over what's left of those special taxes after the stadium contribution. Rybak said Thursday that he supports spending the extra cash on the Minneapolis Convention Center and the Target Center.

Since it was the state Legislature that created those local taxes, Rybak argues that redirecting some of the proceeds to the stadium does not violate the charter's limits on using city money for stadiums.

"The state has control over sales tax dollars that come in the city, complete control," Rybak said. "The state has control, and the state is going to keep control over a portion of it that would be used for the Vikings stadium."

Council Member Don Samuels, who represents parts of north Minneapolis, still supports the plan. He said the Legislature might pass the stadium even without the City Council's help, meaning the city would likely lose the ability to redirect local taxes to pay off the Convention Center and Target Center.

"I think one way or another this stadium is going to get built," Samuels said. "It's just a matter of how much input, influence and benefit is the city going to have."

The Legislature has the power to trump the city charter, and the city government. Samuels worries that if the council resists, the Legislature could use some of the local Minneapolis taxes to fund the stadium and take the rest away. He wants that money to renovate the city-owned Target Center, and to maintain the convention center. He also wants the project to create construction jobs for the people of his north Minneapolis ward. 

When it comes to charter provision, Samuels doesn't get into the legal arguments.

"We all have rules. But if you are hungry enough, you might break some rules yourself," Samuels said. "And we're hungry on the north side. We need to break some rules."

Council Member Barbara Johnson helped broker the deal unveiled Thursday at the State Capitol. 

Although they haven't yet commented on the new stadium plan, Council Members Diane Hofstede and John Quincy have previously voiced support for the stadium. 

Council Member Meg Tuthill said she is still undecided. Council Member Kevin Reich has yet to comment, but has said in the past that he too is undecided. 

WHERE THEY STAND:

Ward 1: Kevin Reich — Undecided
Ward 2: Cam Gordon —  Opposes
Ward 3: Diane Hofstede —  Supports
Ward 4: Barbara Johnson —  Supports
Ward 5: Don Samuels —  Supports
Ward 6: Robert Lilligren —  Opposes
Ward 7: Lisa Goodman —  Opposes plan
Ward 8: Elizabeth Glidden —  Opposed previous plan
Ward 9: Gary Schiff —  Opposes plan
Ward 10: Meg Tuthill —  Undecided
Ward 11: John Quincy —  Supports plan
Ward 12: Sandy Colvin Roy —  Opposed previous plan
Ward 13: Betsy Hodges —  Opposed previous plan