Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak held a news conference in May to announce a plan to use the Metrodome site for a new Vikings stadium and, at the same time, renovate outdated Target Center.
Fast-forward to last week, when Rybak appeared at a legislative hearing and, once again, said he favored the less expensive Metrodome site and a financing plan that includes funds for a Target Center renovation.
Minnesotans might have been surprised that Rybak's reiteration was treated as a major news development, especially by several key legislators. But for those who closely follow stadium politics, it was a predictable turn of events.
In the odd, circular world of stadium debates, competing plans rise and fall like presidential campaigns. A proposal revealed in May 2011 can go largely ignored at first, then suddenly soar in popularity when it is tweaked eight months later.
At the same time, much of the serious negotiating and arm-twisting occurs behind closed doors.
"I think that's getting to be a very viable option," Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the lead Senate negotiator, said after Rybak's presentation. She noted that the Dome project would cost about $200 million less than the Vikings' preferred plan in Ramsey County's Arden Hills.
Of course, Rybak stressed the cost difference in May, too, but the Dome plan had languished until gaining momentum at the hearing.
Meanwhile, legislators treated Ramsey County officials last week as if they were last month's front-runner. The chilly reception prompted county commissioner Tony Bennett to allege a pro-Minneapolis bias.
If true, it would be the first time in years that Minneapolis has received favored treatment at the Capitol. It's more likely that legislators have finally been exposed to the many serious flaws in the Arden Hills proposal.
Wisely, Rybak added a couple of elements to his original Dome plan, including a promising idea to use the nearby Minneapolis Armory as an event center to improve the game-day experience.
He also explained how the city could tap existing tax revenues now used to support the Minneapolis Convention Center to cover the city's share of the cost of a new stadium.
"Those are real dollars, and it matters," Rybak said at the hearing.
In a meeting with the Vikings last week, Rybak told an editorial writer, he discussed the possibility that the team could work with the city to acquire and develop the five blocks now owned by the Star Tribune near the Dome.
(Disclosure: At one time the Vikings had an option to buy the Star Tribune property for $45 million. Although the option expired, the value of the property is likely to be affected by the stadium decision.)
Those City Council members who were quick to dismiss Rybak's financing model need to realize that the Convention Center tax is authorized by the Legislature, and there's no guarantee the state would extend it after Convention Center bonds are paid off in 2020.
In addition, by including Target Center in the plan, the city could provide much-needed property tax relief for its residents. (It should also be noted that the Timberwolves and facility manager AEG would contribute $50 million to the renovation.)
Rybak admits that the proposal needs work, most notably to close a revenue gap in the early years of the plan. Nevertheless, the mayor has made it clear that Minneapolis is serious about a stadium bid, and has an existing revenue stream that could be used to help finance the project.
The next major push for a solution in 2012 should come from Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders Amy Koch and Kurt Zellers.
Legislators who would rather dodge the issue during an election year also risk alienating voters who recognize that the Vikings are a state asset worth keeping -- and that downtown Minneapolis is the best and most viable location.
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