Many downtown Mpls restaurants OK with sales taxes for stadium

Peter Atsidakos
Peter Atsidakos, owner of Peter's Grill, says he supports the proposal to build a new Vikings Stadium, even though taxes on downtown Minneapolis restaurants like his are part of the financing package. Atsidakos is happy that the proposal doesn't increase taxes, but maintains existing Minneapolis sales and hospitality taxes.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

If the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill unveiled Friday becomes law, downtown Minneapolis restaurant patrons will pick up part of the tab for the new facility. The plan taps a set of existing Minneapolis sales taxes that currently support the city's Convention Center.

But many downtown restaurateurs say they don't mind the taxes if it means keeping the Vikings in the city.

At nearly 11 percent, Minneapolis has the highest downtown restaurant taxes of any large city in the country, according to the Washington D.C.-based Tax Foundation.

There's the baseline state sales tax of 6.875 percent, as well as the following additions:

• A 0.25 percent transit improvement tax as part of a five-county consortium;

• A 0.15 percent tax in Hennepin County to help pay for Target Field;

• A 0.5 percent tax in Minneapolis, to help pay for the convention center;

• A 3.0 percent tax assessed to downtown Minneapolis restaurants, also to support the convention center.

But many restaurant owners, including Peter Atsidakos, are willing to live with the tax rate if it helps build a new stadium.

Atsidakos owns Peter's Grill, a downtown restaurant that's been in his family for almost 100 years. Customers barely notice the additional tax tacked on to their bills, he said.

"I don't think they affect the business, because if you want to go out to eat, you don't you mind if you pay another 40 cents more for your lunch," he said.

"We like to have downtown to be a more happening place. That's how we flourish, basically."

That's why he doesn't mind if some of that tax money is goes toward a football stadium. Since the plan doesn't raise any of the taxes -- just keeps them from expiring -- Atsidakos is all for it.

Around the corner at Bombay Bistro, owner Ajay Mehta feels the same way.

"I support any and every event in downtown," said Mehta. "We like to have downtown to be a more happening place. That's how we flourish, basically."

Mehta's restaurant is quite a ways away from the Metrodome, and it doesn't get much in the way of direct customer traffic from Vikings games, but Mehta said he believes his business benefits from the team and its fans.

"They come once to the Metrodome and then start coming back for, say, shopping or a parade or this or that, and they get accustomed to coming to downtown," said Mehta.

Sawatdee, a Thai restaurant, is just three blocks from the Metrodome, and it gets a lot of business because of the Vikings, according to owner Cyndy Harrison.

"People come in with jerseys and everyone gets into it," she said, although she points out her place does not have the same atmosphere as a sports bar. "When we win we get a lot of traffic afterwards, versus when we lose."

Harrison said those crowds are worth the taxes.

There's no single organization representing all the downtown restaurants. Hospitality Minnesota represents many of them and it has concerns about the stadium plan. The Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce counts some of them as its members, too. And most support the stadium plan, according to a spokesman for the group.

But not all downtown restaurateurs think it's a good deal. Naomi Williamson is one of them. She owns Sanctuary, a cozy, quiet, fine dining type of place that's just one block from the stadium site. Williamson says she doesn't see a lot of stadium-related traffic.

"When the dome had a big hole in it and it was closed, [we had the] same staffing levels here," she said. "So it doesn't drive a lot of business."

But that's not why Williamson opposes the stadium plan. Her objections are philosophical. If she's going to put tax money into the Vikings stadium, she said she wants to own a piece of the team.

"I would buy stock in the stock in the Vikings if I could," she said. "Then I'm an owner. Then, when I go to the game and pay $100 for my ticket at the game, I'm going 'You know what? I don't mind paying $100 for a Vikings seat ticket, because I own a part of this team, and this is my team.' No other investor, except a taxpayer, is asked to put money in without getting an ownership interest back."

But Williamson acknowledged that other restaurant owners see the situation differently. In fact, one of her partners at Sanctuary is an outspoken supporter of the stadium plan -- even though it doesn't include public ownership of the team.

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