A late push

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November 7, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
// Rybak making case for downtown Vikings stadium 
with three site proposals //

Mayor R.T. Rybak sat quietly for the past six months as the Minnesota Vikings and Ramsey County leaders pushed for a new stadium in Arden Hills.

With questions dogging the Ramsey County stadium proposal, Rybak began an aggressive push in late October to steer the stadium conversation back toward downtown.

Rybak and City Council President Barb Johnson unveiled three potential sites in downtown and two options for publicly funding about 55 percent of a new stadium that would cost between $895 million and $1 billion.  

“If there had been a groundswell of support for Arden Hills and it could pass here [at the Capitol], we would be about to go celebrate the groundbreaking,” Rybak said. “That hasn’t happened, so what’s important is to follow the invitation of the governor and put every good idea on the table.”

One funding proposal would increase the city sales tax by 0.35 percent, or 35 cents for every $100 spent. The other would take 5 percent of gross revenue from a proposed casino at Block E. Either way, the plan would require an additional $300 million from state sources.

But by Nov. 1, it appeared a sales tax hike was off the table, as Gov. Mark Dayton issued a statement saying that there wasn’t enough support in the Legislature to exempt either Ramsey County or the city of Minneapolis from holding a voter referendum. Polls show a referendum would likely fail.

That put a Block E casino idea front and center, because it wouldn’t require a referendum.

Rybak is proposing three potential locations: A new stadium on the Metrodome site, a Minneapolis Farmers Market site and a third site behind the Basilica of St. Mary near the intersection of I-94 and I-394.

The third-term mayor is facing an uphill battle in getting the stadium in Minneapolis. Many on his own City Council have indicated they won’t support a public subsidy for the Vikings at a time when education and social services are being cut.

 “I strongly oppose public funding of a stadium given the current financial situation in the city and the state,” Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) wrote in an email to The Journal. “There are dozens of other pressing problems and issues that could use that public subsidy I would support first.”

One of Rybak’s biggest arguments for a downtown Vikings stadium rests in the fact that both of his financing plans include property tax relief in a city where residents are increasingly lashing out at their leaders for recent property tax increases.  

Along with financing a Vikings stadium, Rybak’s proposal would also provide for a $150 million Target Center renovation and relieve taxpayers of about $53 million in remaining debt on the city-owned arena. The city is scheduled to pay, on average, about $5.5 million annually through 2025 to pay off Target Center debt. That money comes from property taxes.

A few hours before Rybak proposed his plans on Oct. 27, a bipartisan group of state legislators came out to emphatically oppose a downtown casino and also pushed back against any public subsidy for a Vikings stadium.

One of them was Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) a far-left progressive from southwest Minneapolis. He pointed to a study released in April by Baylor University economics professor Earl Grinols saying that 30 to 50 percent of gambling revenue comes from “problem and pathological” gamblers.

A downtown casino, Hornstein said, would have societal costs that would outweigh its revenue.

“We’re just aiding and abetting this kind of addiction that is really a disease that should be treated. We should be preventing and treating it, rather than promoting it,” said Hornstein, who chided the private sector for not stepping up to help fund a stadium.

Even Rybak has his concerns over a Block E casino. His first choice was for a sales tax, but said he could support a casino if it provided jobs for American-Indian residents in Minneapolis.

Rybak is also struggling for support from the Vikings, who sent out a press release after his proposals thanking him for the effort, but preferring to focus on the Arden Hills plan.

Dayton said he plans to review all stadium proposals before making his recommendation for a site on Nov. 7, which was after this issue of The Journal went to press.

Dayton said he hopes to call a special session on Nov. 21 to finalize a stadium deal, but political followers have doubts a deal can come together before then.