Mpls. City Council votes 7-6 for mayor's stadium plan

Stadium concept
The Minnesota Vikings released this concept of a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, April, 2, 2012. This concept depicts a night scene incorporating the downtown skyline and events surrounding Vikings game days.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings stadium finance plan is gaining momentum in the Legislature, where it may soon be up for a vote in both the full House and Senate. In the meantime, the measure passed a different hurdle Tuesday, when a slim majority of the Minneapolis City Council went on record in support of the plan.

Stadium supporters, including Gov. Mark Dayton, insist the $975 million project will bring short-term economic benefits in the form of construction jobs.

Donald McMillan was among the dozens of Minneapolis residents who spoke in favor of the project Tuesday night at a City Council meeting. McMillan, a 58-year-old union carpenter from northeast Minneapolis, says work has been hard to come by for people in the building trades, and a new football stadium would be money well-spent by taxpayers and the Vikings' owners.

"I think this is a very important stadium to build in our wonderful city that will bring jobs to all of us and keep me working," he said. "I have a few more years to go before I can retire, so it's very important. It's very important to all these people that want jobs, the unions that want work."

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Joining labor unions in support were members of the business community, Todd Klingel among them. The president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, he says that because the city's share of the stadium is funded by existing sales taxes -- including one on hotels -- it won't increase the burden on city residents.

"How much new tax do I have to pay in Minneapolis? None? We take an existing tax on the hospitality industry and I get all this? I am so pleased that a majority of the city council led by the City Council president and Mayor Rybak have seen the value of this for this community," Klingel said.

But just as many opponents of public stadium financing spoke out as well. Ann Berget, of south Minneapolis, said the issue has caused her to lose trust in city government. Like others who are against the project, Berget says city leaders are making an end-run around a 1997 charter amendment that requires a public vote if the city wants to spend more than $10 million on a sports facility.

"Every effort by the mayor and the council members in support of this bill have been an effort to go around that," Berget said. "The city attorney has not seen fit to put her opinion in writing or attach her name to it. You can't even say it's not worth the paper it's written on -- it's not even written on paper."

City Attorney Susan Segal has said a public vote isn't necessary under the city charter because the convention center sales taxes are authorized by the state, not the city.

After the public comment period, the city's finance chief released an estimate of the total cost to Minneapolis taxpayers that accounts for interest costs over the next 30 years: $675 million -- far more than the $348 million that's been discussed for construction and operations.

Still, the city council passed a non-binding resolution in support of the plan by a slim 7-6 majority.

Councilman Cam Gordon -- an opponent of the project -- says the plan would put too big of a financial burden on Minneapolis. He says the stadium is supposed to be a statewide asset, and an undertaking of this size should have a much broader consensus among all levels of government and the public.

"I think the best way to move forward with a project like this is with broad-based, enthusiastic support, and hopefully the legislature will note that that doesn't exist for this plan," Gordon said.

The stadium plan has another committee hearing in the Senate today.

If the proposal makes it through the legislature, it'll still need a final OK from the city council. And while approval hinges on a single council member, the test vote last night indicates that Mayor R.T. Rybak has the support he needs -- even if just barely.