Emotions run high at City Hall over stadium vote

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June 4, 2012 // UPDATED 4:17 pm - July 26, 2013
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

Surrounded by Vikings fans and construction workers in his third-floor office of City Hall, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak gulped Grain Belt beer from a Viking horn before being awarded “rock star” by Vikings crazies. 

For Rybak, getting a majority of his 13-member City Council to support a $678 million city subsidy for a new stadium had been a long and winding road.

“This has been a bruising fight,” Rybak said. “I feel in my gut a little like I imagine the Vikings feel after a win. You’re happy you won, but you’ve got to go sit in the hot tub and take care of the bruises for a little bit.”

On May 25, seven City Council members voted in favor of the deal, arguing that the measure would put construction workers back on the job, make an important investment in downtown and finally secure funding for the Target Center. 

The debate lasted two days and roughly seven hours. Tears were shed on both sides of the issue. 

Though outnumbered heavily by fans and union workers, opponents of the deal held signs reminding council members to obey the City Charter and not to give out corporate welfare. One woman, in the middle of the debate, shouted “let the people speak” before being escorted from the Council Chambers by security. 

Rybak will appoint two members to a five-member stadium authority charged with overseeing the planning of the new stadium. Construction is expected to start in 2013 in order to have the new stadium open by 2016. 

The political fallout from the deal is still undetermined. It’s likely to be a campaign issue when all 13 City Council members and the mayor are up for re-election in November 2013. 

Opponents of the deal made harsh remarks about their pride in serving on the City Council and their view of a DFL party that would push forward a bill that will subsidize wealthy team owner Zygi Wilf. 

“I do not want to be a part of a DFL party, for sure, after what happened at the Legislature, and a group of people in the city who have pushed forward the largest public subsidy in the state and city’s history,” said Lisa Goodman (Ward 7). 

Goodman is a hardened City Council veteran who, as chair of the city’s Community Development Committee, is used to playing hardball with city developers. She was crying when she spoke out against the stadium deal. 

Gary Schiff (Ward 9) has been the most vocal of stadium critics, and he urged active stadium opponents to hold the City Council accountable for its stadium votes. 

 “Your voices are more important that ever in the next year ahead to hold this body accountable and to demand a real democracy and a fair economic investment from the city of Minneapolis,” Schiff said. “And that’s the only way we’re going to get the change we need.” 

Dave Bicking of the Corcoran neighborhood has been fighting the stadium deal for six years. He also fought the Target Field deal and helped campaign against Hennepin County commissioners who voted for that stadium.

He’s not so sure council members will be held accountable, and, even if they aren’t re-elected, the new members won’t be better. 

“Several of the council members who voted for this campaigned and were against stadiums and corporate welfare at the time they were elected,” Bicking said. “So what do we do, throw them out and elect some other people who promise they won’t do this? We’ll wind up with the same result, and that’s the same result we’ve wound up [with] decade after decade.”

Financials of the deal gain clarity

Five days before the Council was scheduled to vote on the stadium, Betsy Hodges (Ward 13) called for a meeting in her Budget Committee to discuss the financials of the deal. Hodges, an opponent of the deal, conceded that her colleagues would approve the measure, but wanted to give council members a chance to dig deeper into the details. 

The city’s chief financial officer, Kevin Carpenter, gave the committee four pages of financial information, including a spreadsheet that projected sales tax revenue for the next 33 years and how that money would be spent on the Vikings stadium, Target Center and the Minneapolis Convention Center. 

Between 2013 and 2046, the city will spend just short of $2.7 billion to build a new Vikings stadium, to renovate and pay off the Target Center and to maintain, operate, market and pay off the Minneapolis Convention Center. 

Of that $2.7 billion number, $678 million will go toward a Vikings stadium, $480 million will go toward the Target Center and $1.53 billion will go toward the Convention Center. 

Most of the money for those public facilities would come from a half percent citywide sales tax as well as liquor, lodging and restaurant taxes downtown. 

The city will be able to charge sales tax on Vikings tickets in the new stadium, which Carpenter said would bring in $1.5 million to $2 million annually to the city’s general fund. The Metrodome was exempt from city ticket taxes. 

Rybak said the financing plan leaves $60 to $70 million for a Target Center renovation, which was most recently estimated to cost $135 million. Rybak said he would begin negotiating that deal with the Wolves and AEG as soon as the deal passed. 

How they voted

Voting in favor of the stadium deal: council members Barb Johnson, Don Samuels, Kevin Reich, Diane Hofstede, Meg Tuthill, John Quincy and Sandy Colvin Roy. 

Voting against the stadium deal: council members Cam Gordon, Lisa Goodman, Robert Lilligren, Betsy Hodges, Elizabeth Glidden and Gary Schiff.