PLYMOUTH, Minn. - Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday that Minnesota Vikings officials weren't forthright during negotiations about the possibility that season ticket holders could be charged hefty new fees to help fund the new stadium.
While expressing optimism the dispute could be worked out, Dayton did not retreat from an earlier vow to fight the teams' owners over the extra charges.
The stadium legislation passed last May authorizing the $975 million construction project says the team can issue "stadium builder's licenses," typically a one-time fee on top of normal season ticket charges. Other NFL teams have charged from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in such fees, and the Vikings raised the issue recently in a survey to season ticket holders as one possible way to pay for some of their $477 million share. The state and the city of Minneapolis are covering the rest of the tab.
On Tuesday, Dayton sent Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf a letter, condemning the seat fee idea, saying it would make the new downtown Minneapolis venue a "Rich People's Stadium."
After a speech to educators in Plymouth on Thursday, Dayton said team officials didn't bring up the high-dollar fee proposal during stadium negotiations.
"Not every card was face up on the table," he said.
Dayton said he believed state and local officials involved in the negotiations assumed any such fee proposal would resemble a more modest seat-license plan such as the one employed by the Minnesota Twins, who charged $1,000 to $2,000 on a small number of premium seats in club areas. Dayton said he hopes the Vikings ultimately take that approach.
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley took issue with the idea that team officials were less than open about the possibility of seat licenses.
"We went through 14 committee hearings, had discussions about stadium builder's licenses with the governor's negotiators," Bagley said. "We were very forthright and very above-board and very clear."
More than half of NFL teams charge seat license fees.
Bagley said the team is still in the early stages of analyzing seat license fees, and that any plan would be based on what the local market can support.
"This is not New York or San Francisco," he said.
If the Vikings decide to proceed with a seat-license fee, the final decision on whether to allow it to proceed would likely rest with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, a five-member panel created to oversee stadium construction and operations. Its members were appointed by Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who also opposes seat licenses. The governor said he was confident the panel would rein in excessive fees.
And while Dayton was optimistic that the authority and the team could reach a compromise, he again suggested that the issue could be revisited at the Capitol.
"If the authority doesn't act in a way that I think is within the boundaries of propriety, then I have an option to go to the Legislature," Dayton said. "Obviously I'd have to persuade the Legislature, and I'd rather not do that, get involved in all that tangle again."
Dayton said he hoped the Wilfs would realize steep fees might attract ill will.
"They've obviously been very successful developers in New Jersey and that area," Dayton said. "Maybe there's one style of doing business there that's effective. I think there's a different style here that's more straightforward and more mindful of the sensitivities of the community, and the need for good relations with the community."