A deal to build a Minnesota Vikings stadium next to the Metrodome neared completion Thursday, as stadium planners worked late to put the finishing touches on an agreement among the state, the team and Minneapolis.
How to make it all work was the subject of a midday conference call involving numerous executives and business leaders, a call that reinforced talk a deal was imminent, to be announced as soon as Friday or early next week.
Even a signed deal, however, still must win the support of many legislators and Minneapolis City Council members who are reluctant to commit hundreds of millions in public funding to a sports entertainment project costing at least $900 million.
The complicated whirl of stadium politics was on full display Thursday, with conflicting reports about where things stand, a new stadium financing scenario involving casino gambling from the White Earth Tribe and a House tax committee hearing that Mayor R.T. Rybak said was a thinly disguised effort to coerce recalcitrant council members to support the stadium.
Gov. Mark Dayton, speaking on WCCO Radio, said he believed all sides were close to an agreement but not yet there.
"I'm hopeful that they'll get something resolved in the next couple days, but there is no guarantee of that," he said. "Of course, that's the beginning of the process. It has to get the support of the Minneapolis City Council. It has to get the support of the Legislature."
Rep. Morrie Lanning, chief House author of stadium legislation, agreed the Minneapolis City Council still holds the key to the project. "No one should think that, all of a sudden, it's a done deal, because it's not," he said. "This is going to have to be supported by a majority vote of the Minneapolis City Council. If they don't, it doesn't go any further."
Business leaders participating in the conference call said they had agreed to keep the discussion confidential. "It was just a status report," said Jac Sperling, the sports executive who helped land the Minnesota Wild and is working as a stadium lobbyist.
"I don't think it's a secret we've been working for over a year on this because we believe it's an important asset to the community," said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership.
House tax proposal
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, chairman of the House Tax Committee, said plans for the Minneapolis City Council to use convention center taxes to help pay for a Vikings stadium had nothing to do with Thursday's two-hour hearing on his proposal to end those taxes by 2020.
Rybak didn't buy it.
"Absolutely, this conversation connects to what's going on with Vikings stadiums," the mayor said.
The city has proposed using some of the taxes to help pay the city's share of a new stadium, but several council members are balking at the plan.
Davids and other legislators, mainly Republicans, say the convention center taxes are an unfair burden on consumers who don't live in Minneapolis.
"You know who pays for this? The citizens in my district, my constituents that decide to go to Minneapolis, maybe go out to a restaurant for the night," said Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth.
Minneapolis officials said their convention business produces millions in tax dollars for the state and that eliminating the special taxes would force city residents to pay for the convention center through property taxes.
"There's not a [major] convention center like this across the country that is self-supporting that I know of," Rybak said.
White Earth weighs in
Meanwhile, the White Earth Tribe announced it's prepared to go into the casino business with the state, sharing its revenue and providing an ongoing source of money to pay for a new stadium.
The tribe wants to build what would be the state's first Twin Cities casino on non-reservation land. Such a casino near the stadium could raise as much as $300 million a year, with net revenue split evenly between the tribe and state, tribal officials said.
The casino proposal is a late entry into a crowded field of state financing options focused on electronic pulltabs at bars and restaurants.
Dayton, who prefers the electronic pulltab plan, said on WCCO that he didn't consider the White Earth proposal a good option.
"I'm more focused on things that are here now," he said. "I don't think it makes sense to link that to the stadium because other tribes are going to oppose what they proposed ... that's three to five years and they may appeal all the way to the Supreme Court."
But tribal chairwoman Erma Vizenor said White Earth's plan is the only one that could raise enough revenue for a new stadium while still preserving the spirit of the state's gaming laws.
Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said pressure was mounting to come up with a stadium solution and that the White Earth casino bill he is sponsoring with Republican state Rep. Bob Gunther of Fairmont had arrived just in time.
Vizenor said the tribe's proposal should be taken seriously.
"We have created a solution that not only would pay for the public share of the stadium, but would generate money for critical state priorities for years to come," she said.
Staff writers Rochelle Olson and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this story. firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-4455 email@example.com • 651-925-5045 firstname.lastname@example.org • 651-925-5049