Divided Minneapolis council now at center of Vikings stadium debate

3 of the 13 members back mayor's plan to redirect existing sales taxes.

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Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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The Minneapolis City Council suddenly finds itself at the center of the Vikings stadium debate, as stadium backers scramble to win support for a downtown football field.

"We believe we can get seven votes from the council," Mayor R.T. Rybak said. "It's going to be tough."

Rybak and City Council President Barb Johnson have proposed redirecting existing sales taxes to pay for the local share of a new stadium and want the Legislature to override a requirement that gives voters a say. Six of the city's 13 council members oppose the funding plan. Three are supportive; three remain undecided. One could not be reached for comment.

In other words, the new stadium could rise or fall on a single council member's vote.

Gov. Mark Dayton says the council has "got to be willing to say whether they want [to be] a part of a stadium in Minneapolis." Without local government support, any deal reached at the Legislature could easily collapse, he said.

Dayton on Wednesday released his analysis of the three main sites for a new Vikings stadium, saying that while he preferred a location near the Basilica of St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis, all of the sites had vexing problems. The Vikings have lobbied for a $1.1 billion stadium in Ramsey County's Arden Hills, and Minneapolis officials said they prefer building a new stadium at the Metrodome.

Don Samuels was one of two Minneapolis City Council members willing to add their support to the financing plan on Thursday. "It sounds like the least painful, most status quo kind of solution, as far as the city is concerned," Samuels said, explaining that he favors it partly because no new taxes would be necessary.

But building the stadium at Linden Avenue, while an appealing idea to the governor, could jeopardize support from some on the council who remain undecided. Council Member Meg Tuthill said she is "not supportive of the Linden Avenue site," though she is "still asking some questions" about the mayor's financing plan.

"The renovation of the Dome is not going to infringe upon much," Tuthill said. "Whereas we've got all kinds of things that are in that Linden Avenue [site] that would need to be moved."

Pointing to the charter

Another undecided council member, Kevin Reich, prefers the Metrodome site. But he is concerned about overriding another charter requirement -- that the public must vote on stadiums that cost the city more than $10 million. "I'm waiting to see the case why we wouldn't just follow the referendum as it stands," Reich said, noting that the 1997 vote to approve the requirement is "a standing opinion of the citizenry."

Council Member John Quincy said he supports the mayor's financing plan as a stand-alone idea but won't endorse it fully until the state explains its funding method.

"I haven't found a reason why I couldn't support the mayor's proposal, at this point," Quincy said. "Because it meets all of [the] thresholds that I set up for myself: Does it keep the Vikings in Minneapolis? Does it improve our business relationships? And does it improve the Minneapolis taxpayers?"

Council Member Diane Hofstede remains on the fence, though she declined to elaborate her concerns until there is a "final" proposal. "My understanding is the financing plan is a very fluid plan," Hofstede said. "And until we have a final recommendation that we can all review, I'm just going to wait and see what that is."

The council members' views on the financing plan are likely to become sharper next Thursday, when they will hold another committee hearing to examine the funding proposals.

Johnson, the council's president, said last week that she believes the total impact of the plan -- which includes property tax relief and securing the long-term future of the Convention Center and Target Center -- will resonate with a majority of the council. She would not say how many votes she already has. "Anybody that says I've got the votes is a fool," Johnson said.

'Not a priority'

While Dayton has continued to push for a stadium, the governor's appearance on Thursday with the leaders of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate to preview the upcoming legislative session showed that Republicans were not nearly as eager.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers said that "for most Minnesotans, it's not a priority."

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said that while the Vikings' quest to get a new publicly funded stadium was "important," it "is certainly not the most important thing." Senjem said that once stadium legislation is introduced, naming a location and a funding plan, legislators would "chug and churn on it."

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk chided the Republican leaders on their stadium approach. "I think the leaders are making this harder than it needs to be," the DFLer said.

"If we just can't get it done, let's just say it," Bakk added. "I'd like to have a vote on the floor of the Senate on something" regarding a Vikings stadium.

Replied Senjem: "I don't think we're delaying it -- we don't certainly intend to. This has got to play out."

Cost estimates

The governor, in his analysis Wednesday of three sites for the project, released data showing the team would have to contribute $428 million to a new stadium at the Metrodome, where the team has played for 30 years. Dayton's top stadium negotiator, Ted Mondale, said a new stadium at the Metrodome would cost $918 million.

If a stadium was built near the Basilica of St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis -- a site that Dayton and the Vikings seem to be warming to -- the team would have to put in $450 million, the data showed. On Wednesday, Mondale estimated the total cost of a stadium near the basilica at $995 million.

Should a $1.09 billion stadium be built in Arden Hills with a $300 million contribution from Ramsey County, the team's share would be $408.9 million. Should the Arden Hills project go forward without a county contribution, the team's share would be $699.9 million.

The team has said that it would contribute $425 million to a stadium in Arden Hills, its preferred site.

mkaszuba@startribune.com • 651-925-5045 eric.roper@startribune.com • 612-673-1732 • Twitter: @StribRoper

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    We reported this morning that the stadium focus has turned to the Minneapolis City Council, which must now decide whether it supports the mayor R.T. Rybak's funding plan.

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