Rybak: Majority of Mpls. City Council backs stadium plan

Rybak
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said at a press conference at the State Capitol on Monday, March 26, 2012 that a majority of his City Council had finally signed on to a stadium financing plan. The deal would divert city sales taxes to a new stadium and a renovation of the Target Center.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak announced Monday morning that he has won the backing of a majority of the 13-member Minneapolis City Council for a planned Vikings stadium.

"We want to hand you the signed letters of seven city council members that support building the stadium," Rybak told Gov. Mark Dayton. "And if we can now get the Legislature to move, that will mean we can finally go forward with a stadium that will be a home for the Vikings, for professional soccer, for amateur sports, and will finally put more than 7,500 people to work."

Rybak handed out signed letters (embedded below) from Council President Barbara Johnson, as well as council members Diane Hofstede, John Quincy, Meg Tuthill, Don Samuels, Sandy Colvin Roy and Kevin Reich. The two latter council members had wavered on the plan until late last week and finally committed over the weekend.

Rybak said the council members agreed that the stadium plan is not subject to a citywide referendum despite city charter language that says any spending of more than $10 million for a sports stadium must be approved by voters.

Stadium sponsors say the charter language does not apply to the Vikings plan because the sales taxes that would pay for the city's $150 million upfront share actually go to the state, not the city.

Vikings stadium rendering
This artist rendering provided by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission shows how a new Vikings stadium might be situated on the exiting Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis.
Courtesy Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission

The council president credited new revenue numbers for 2011 sales taxes in the city with helping turn the tide. She said the good numbers, from as recently as last week, help the city's financial analysts convince some of her colleagues that the deal would work.

"I've always been very confident," Johnson said.

Pressure from labor groups also apparently helped turn the tide. Construction unions were polling residents in swing wards and showing the results to council members just last week.

Dan McConnell, business manager for the Minneapolis Building Trades, said that stadium supporters were buttonholing council members at this weekend's DFL endorsing conventions and that the union was putting "patch through" calls of stadium supporters to city officials still on the fence.

"We've been experiencing like 20, 30 percent unemployment for the last several years," McConnell said in an interview after the announcement.

Dan McConnell
Minneapolis Building Trades Council business manager Dan McConnell was among the labor leaders pushing the Minneapolis City Council to line up behind a plan to build a new Vikings stadium.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

He said unions wanted the council to help move the stadium forward to help fill in the "trough" in construction work still lingering from the recent recession.

"We're starting to see that turn around and uptick," he said. "This will hopefully help jump that back up."

The plan supported by Dayton, Rybak and the Vikings would build a new $975 football stadium at the site of the Metrodome. In addition to the city's $150 million upfront cost, the state would put in $398 million and the team would pay $427 million.

MORE ISSUES TO BE RESOLVED

The governor had previously said the council's reluctance was threatening to kill the deal.

The council's signal is just one of the significant issues that have been dogging the stadium plan.

Another is doubt about the sufficiency of the new gambling revenue to pay for the state's proposed share of a new stadium. Dayton on Monday offered reassurances again that his administration's projections showed the deal would work.

"Even if it's off by a third, there'll still be enough," Dayton said of the projected new revenue.

But Republicans continue to ask for an alternative. They say the stadium bonds would have to be backed up by tax dollars from the state's general fund if the gambling doesn't pan out.

GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers said on Friday that wasn't an acceptable alternative for his caucus and that they wanted some further assurance that tax dollars wouldn't be at risk if the stadium financing didn't work out as planned. Zellers expressed doubt that Minneapolis would ever be able to put up the votes for a stadium — key because the state constitution requires the council to ratify the financing.

PIVOTAL WEEKEND

But political pressure had been ratcheting up for weeks to win over a council majority.

And that intensified this weekend. It was a busy one, as DFLers around Minneapolis gathered for several high-profile party endorsing conventions. Stadium supporters fanned out to work on the stadium doubters.

"We talked to a lot of people. We had conventions this weekend, we had people talking to them, constituents from their wards that participate in their caucuses, we had them talking to them," Dan McConnell, business manager for the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, a coalition of unions. "We had people throughout their wards calling them. We patched through calls. We did a survey of all the people in their wards. We had the people that said they support getting in contact with their council members."

McConnell said he got a call, just before 10 p.m. Sunday night, that seven of the 13 council members had finally pledged support for the stadium.

"I was actually watching "The Hunger Games. I was in the theater," McConnell said. "My phone rang and council President Johnson called to give me the news."

For her part, Barb Johnson said it was simply a matter of math.

The deal hinges on taking city sales taxes that now pay for the mortgage on the Minneapolis Convention Center, and instead paying for $150 million of stadium construction. The taxes would also pay for the mortgage and renovation of Target Center.

Those sales taxes would replace about $5 million of property taxes that now go into the basketball arena. That's been the main selling point for the deal in Minneapolis.

In the past, it hasn't been clear if there was enough money in the deal to do everything.

That changed last week, the council president said.

"This is 2012. We now have 2011 sales tax information, and that was helpful," Johnson said. "The sales tax revenue for 2011 was quite good."

Legislative leaders will have to take up the matter next. Key committee leaders said they still wouldn't commit to hearing the bill, expressing lingering doubts about whether or not new gambling revenue was enough to pay the state's $400 million share of the stadium.

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