Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is making his case for a plan to have the city pay for part of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
On Tuesday night, he heard a variety of opinions from south Minneapolis residents during a meeting at the Nokomis Community Center. And on Wednesday night, he'll hold a forum on the contentious topic in northeast Minneapolis.
The latest financing plan for the proposed $975 million stadium on the Metrodome site calls for the state to cover nearly $400 million of the construction cost. The team would pay another $427 million, and the city of Minneapolis would kick in the rest -- about $150 million.
That last piece of the finance puzzle has been the focus of intense debate among City Council members. Rybak, the plan's most vocal supporter, has convinced seven of its 13 members to go along with him. At Tuesday night's forum, attended by about 100 people, it was clear the mayor still has some work to do in order to win public support, too.
"There have been a lot of poor decisions made by the city over the years, and that has negatively affected anyone who lives in the city, and property taxes," said one opponent of the plan, Jon Sawyer. "This is a great city, but I'm just wondering how much longer we're going to be able to afford to live here."
Sawyer fears property taxes will rise even more if sales taxes fail to generate enough revenue, citing the 1995 city bailout of Target Center as a case in point. But Rybak promised there would not be a repeat of the Target Center bailout, and no property tax money would go to the Vikings stadium. The city's share of construction costs -- plus another $189 million in operating funds -- would come from hospitality and sales taxes already in place. Right now those cover the debt on the convention center. But once that's paid off, the sales tax money would go to the new Vikings facility.
Rybak said that revenue would also cover the Target Center debt.
"I believe that the question before the residents of Minneapolis is, 'Do you want me to take an action that will lower your property taxes, take the obligation for Target Center off us, come up with long-term funding for the convention center and make a billion dollar investment in the city?' I think the answer is yes," the mayor said.
While it sounded as though a majority of people who came to the meeting were opponents of public funding for a Vikings stadium, there were plenty of supporters too. Paul McKitrick, who lives near Lake Nokomis, and sells video security equipment for a living, was one of them. He said he doesn't expect to benefit personally from the stadium project, but he said professional sports are vital to the region's economy.
"It has nothing to do with being a sports fan," he said. "It's about the vibrancy of the economic situation in Minneapolis. Having four sports in this community keeps the business community solid; gives people reasons to come here."
Others at the meeting raised a question heard before in the debate: Does the city charter require a vote from citizens before Minneapolis can spend more than $10 million on a stadium? Powderhorn Park resident Peter Tobias says he thinks so.
"It's all good and fine that Mr. Rybak comes here and represents what the plan looks like. But he should make the case to the people of Minneapolis, and give them a voice to say yes or no on the plan," Tobias said.
But Rybak says he's on solid legal ground, citing an opinion from City Attorney Susan Segal, who said last month that a referendum would not be triggered because the state - and not the city -- collects the sales taxes.
Rybak will make his case for the stadium again Wednesday night at 6.30 p.m. at the Logan Recreation Center in northeast Minneapolis. Meanwhile, city council members who oppose the financing proposal are planning a hearing at City Hall on April 24.
Still, the debate in Minneapolis will be for naught unless state lawmakers give the Vikings stadium project their blessing. And as the current legislative session winds down, support for the plan remains far from certain.