Foes pile on Vikings stadium subsidy

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2011 - 10:22 AM

Supporters of the Arden Hills plan were outnumbered by those demanding a chance to vote on tax increase.

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The Minnesota Vikings stadium plans ran into solid opposition at a packed Ramsey County public hearing Wednesday night, with dozens of residents saying they want a chance to vote down the proposal.

Speakers lining up against the team's plan overwhelmingly outnumbered the supporters at the hearing, which was organized by the Ramsey County Charter Commission and was the first of two that will be dedicated to the topic. The commission could decide immediately after the next hearing, Oct. 11, whether to put the issue to the voters in 2012.

More than half of the roughly 200 people in attendance, some wearing Vikings purple, signed up to speak, getting two minutes each.

Commission Chairman Rich Sonterre told audience members at the New Brighton Community Center they could be removed by sheriff's deputies for applauding or jeering speakers. But the crowd still often applauded enthusiastically when an anti-stadium speaker fired off a snappy line.

Cindi Nickel, a stay-at-home mom from Shoreview, said she's tired of sports teams telling the public to help pay for stadiums.

"In school, this is called bullying and it's not to be tolerated," she said.

Others spoke of what they believe is their right to vote on the issue, or of wanting team owner Zygi Wilf to bear the entire cost of his "playground."

The few supporters who spoke said that the anti-stadium fervor at the meeting didn't reflect the feelings of the general public and that a referendum would kill the team's plans for a $1.1 billion facility in Arden Hills, possibly prompting the Vikings to move.

Bill Spear of New Brighton, who wore purple, spoke against the vote, saying it would "send the wrong message." He argued that there was no referendum on the 0.15 percent Hennepin County sales tax increase imposed to build Target Field.

Curt Lyons of Mounds View countered: "Really? They made a bad choice so we should make a bad choice? That didn't work when I was 4."

Stadium supporter and jersey wearer Jim Hanson of New Brighton said, "The Vikings need a new stadium and I'm in favor of a new stadium as long as it's built in Minnesota."

The ballot question is perceived as being a potential deal killer, and it is opposed by the Vikings.

The issue is whether to allow a 2012 ballot question that would amend the county's home-rule charter. The question: "Shall Ramsey County be prohibited from using any revenues, including those raised by taxes or bonding, to fund or assist in funding a Major League Baseball or National Football League sports team or stadium?"

The Vikings and Ramsey County have proposed the stadium be built on a former munitions site in Arden Hills. The county would issue $350 million in bonds to be paid off over 30 years by the sales tax increase. The state also would be expected to contribute $300 million.

The Vikings have said they need a deal now because their lease runs out at the Metrodome after this season.

Some speakers brought up the team's rough start to the season, but Dick Houck of Roseville talked money. "In case you haven't noticed, we're in a double dip recession and people out there don't have the money to pay the tax. Do your job and let the people vote," he told the commission.

"Let's let [Wilf] put his money into his own business," he added.

No Vikings officials attended the meeting. But earlier in the day, communications director Jeff Anderson said: "As a representative democracy, we elect public officials to analyze complex issues and make decisions that are in the public interest. We don't believe the Vikings stadium should be held to a different standard any more than asking the public to vote on the thousands of other issues."

Allison Seaborn of Little Canada wore her Vikings jersey and professed to also sporting a team tattoo. But she said she still wants to vote on the stadium. She said NFL owners are willing to use cheap labor to make memorabilia and "make the highest profit possible" but when it comes to building stadiums, they take the "socialist path" and want public help.

Randy Porter of North Oaks argued that the millions the state and county would put in "is not an investment, it's a giveaway. ... We need a better deal."

At the behest of Gov. Mark Dayton, a feasibility study is being conducted on the Arden Hills site. Metropolitan Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh and Metropolitan Sports Facilities Chairman Ted Mondale are expected to present the report no later than Oct. 15.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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