Should Minneapolis City Council sign off on a new Vikings stadium?

Gary Schiff and Barb Johnson
Minneapolis City Council members Gary Schiff, left, and Barb Johnson. Schiff is an opponent of the new football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. Johnson supports the plan.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

The fate of the proposed $975 million Vikings stadium now rests in the hands of the Minneapolis City Council.

The council voted 7-6 to approve an earlier stadium proposal in April. Council President Barb Johnson said she's confident that the current proposal, which has passed the state Legislature and has received Gov. Mark Dayton's signature, will be approved by council members. A council committee is expected to take up the issue May 24.

Johnson, who supports the stadium proposal, and Council Member Gary Schiff, who opposes it, discussed the issue with MPR's Cathy Wurzer this week as part of Morning Edition's One-on-One series. An edited transcript of that conversation is below.

Cathy Wurzer: Mayor Rybak said that this was a good deal before, but this new one is an even better deal. Are there any changes to the bill, Council Member Schiff, since you last voted that would influence your final vote?

Council Member Gary Schiff: The deal has just gotten worse since the initial deal was first rolled out, particularly for city taxpayers. More property has been taken off the tax rolls than was originally identified, and that totals half a million dollars a year of property taxes that's going to become tax-exempt.

And over the 30-year lifetime of the deal, that's $15 million that won't go to schools, to the city, to the county and to the parks. And that was one of the things that was negotiated during the Senate and the House deliberations.

So when you have property taxes coming off the rolls, and you have a deal that is financed solely on sales taxes from the city of Minneapolis, you know, I think it's a bad deal for the city taxpayers.

And it's time that we stop treating downtown Minneapolis as an ATM for the region.

Wurzer: Council Member Johnson, what about the taking of property off of the property tax rolls, the $15 million?

Council President Barb Johnson: We're talking right now about surface parking lots, really and truly, and also some public land. There's some county land involved. And we anticipate that with this massive investment, we will see development occur around the stadium that will compensate for the tax revenue that's lost off of those properties.

Wurzer: Madame President, the sales taxes that we're talking about here would result in downtown Minneapolis being one of the most heavily taxed downtown areas in the country. Do you worry that extending the sales tax would give visitors a reason to maybe skip the restaurants and the bars in downtown?

Johnson: We're not raising any taxes. The taxes will remain the same. They will just remain in place over the lifetime of the stadium. And it certainly hasn't deterred folks up to this point. I think if you asked our police officers about the crowds in our downtown, they'd tell you our downtown is quite successful ...

The downtown housing market is very vibrant. Thirty-three thousand people live in our downtown, and they choose to live down there because they like the activity that's down there, the options that they have for entertainment. I am not worried about the continuing of our sales tax being a problem or an impediment to our downtown.

Schiff: Unfortunately, we should be embarrassed to have the highest sales tax of any downtown in the country. And when you look at vacancies on Hennepin Avenue, and you look at the businesses that have left Hennepin Avenue, you see the result of higher sales taxes because you can only sell a beer for so much. And when sales taxes are that high, and the owner has to swallow the cost, it's the hospitality workers who suffer the most. They are laid off the first in any dip of the economy.

And don't forget, with our convention industry, it is a big decision where conventions locate of how much taxes people will pay when they arrive. So these high sales taxes make us less competitive in the convention industry. We should be lowering those sales taxes to make downtown more competitive, to fill up the vacant storefronts on Lake Street, to make it more business-friendly. That is a plan for job growth, rather than putting $675 million into a building that's only really going to be full eight to 10 times a year.

Johnson: Well, you know it's interesting that we talk about hospitality jobs because those folks were one of the biggest proponents of this deal and helped us at the Legislature to secure the approval of the Legislature and the governor. People in the hospitality industry welcome this investment in our entertainment arena in our city, and so I really don't worry about our convention center being less competitive. I think certainly if the Vikings left, our convention center would be way less competitive, and that's what we're trying to look at here is what's the ongoing future of our community, and a new Vikings stadium will attract people.

Certainly, when Target Field opened, we had press all over the United States. People take tours of stadiums, and we will see those folks coming to our city. It'll be an attraction.

Schiff: And yet, just three years after the Twins stadium opened, attendance is dropping, and the Twins have the worst record in the league. And the explanation the Twins gave at the time for a new stadium was that they needed to be more competitive, and we now see that that isn't true. There was a short-term excitement with a new facility, and already the shine is starting to fade.

Wurzer: The city Charter Commission has declined to advise on whether this deal goes against the city's charter because it bypasses a referendum. What happened there? Was there enough pressure exerted to not look at the issue, Council President?

Johnson: The Charter Commission felt that it wasn't within their authority to issue an opinion.

Wurzer: Really?

Johnson: Yes. I think they're correct. The Charter Commission is staffed by our city attorney's office, and they have authority that is not in the policy arena, and so I'm not surprised that they declined to opine on whether it violated the charter or not. And the law certainly does not violate the charter. The state law always can trump the city's charter.

Schiff: Well, and that's what happened. There's a section of the bill that says "city charter notwithstanding," and it clearly overrides the city charter. And any time the state takes a dramatic action to deny citizens a right to vote on something is, in and of itself, a bill that I think the city should oppose.

Wurzer: The seven votes that have approved the original deal, are they solid, Council President?

Johnson: Well, I visited with all of my colleagues that are supportive of the stadium and, you know, I don't see people wavering. I really don't.

Schiff: And that's unfortunate because there's still much time before the final vote, and if people are listening to their constituents, all the polls show overwhelmingly 70 percent of Minneapolis residents oppose public financing of sports facilities.

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(Interview edited and transcribed by MPR reporter Madeleine Baran)

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