A majority of the Minneapolis City Council now backs Mayor R.T. Rybak's plan to fund a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis, setting up a last-ditch effort by Gov. Mark Dayton to persuade reluctant Republican legislators to support the project.
The surprise announcement Monday that seven council members had signed letters of support seemed unlikely just a week ago, when seven members publicly opposed the plan. But after heavy lobbying by stadium backers, including Gov. Mark Dayton, Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy abandoned her insistence on a citywide referendum and gave Rybak the majority he needs.
"I didn't change my mind," Colvin Roy said Monday. "I made up my mind."
The deal is far from done, however. Legislators were still scrambling Monday to obtain an agreement with charities over the use of charitable gambling funds to pay for the state portion of the stadium. It is also uncertain whether there are enough votes at the Legislature to pass the plan.
"Now [the] motion shifts over here to the Legislature," Rybak said at a state Capitol news conference. "If the Legislature acts, the City Council will act as well."
Under Rybak's plan, Minneapolis would contribute $150 million toward building the stadium, plus an additional $189 million to help operate it. The money would come from excess city sales taxes that become available when debt is paid off for the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The mayor's plan ran into immediate turbulence with the council because it bypassed a provision of the city charter that requires a citywide vote whenever the city wants to spend $10 million or more on a sports facility. Colvin Roy had said in January that she could not "countenance going around" the referendum requirement.
But in early March, City Attorney Susan Segal offered an informal opinion that the plan would not trigger the referendum because the taxes are merely being reclaimed by the state. That prompted Colvin Roy to look into the finer details of the stadium proposal. She says her initial comments were a "knee-jerk reaction to the idea of funding for professional sports."
"I made a statement about the referendum," Colvin Roy said. "I did not have the legal opinion about whether it would be triggered or not, whether it would be required. And now I do. And once I did have that, I disregarded my personal feelings and started looking at facts."
Her discussions with stadium negotiators to review whether the finances were sound culminated Thursday night in a City Hall meeting with city development chief Chuck Lutz and Mark Kaplan, a former council member and consultant with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.
Colvin Roy said she's been warned that she'll suffer political consequences, but she is convinced the plan means property tax relief for Minneapolis homeowners.
Council Member Kevin Reich, who was publicly undecided until Monday, wrote in a letter to the governor that he "will support the Senate and House legislation" that keeps the sales taxes in Minneapolis, builds the stadium on the Metrodome site and does not require him to violate the city's charter. Reich did not respond to a Star Tribune request to elaborate on his position.
Colvin Roy and Reich were under intense pressure from labor groups. Dan McConnell, business manager for the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, said he spoke with both Colvin Roy and Reich over the weekend -- as well as stadium opponents on the City Council. Colvin Roy said she hasn't talked with McConnell about the stadium since at least last week.
"We had people talking to them that were constituents from their wards," McConnell said.
Council Member Meg Tuthill, who said she made up her mind last week, reasoned that securing the longterm future of the city's sales taxes -- the bill extends them until 2045 -- ensures the stability of the Target Center and Convention Center. That refers to the deal's provision to direct money to both facilities. "We need to tie that money up so that we can continue to keep those as first-class venues to bring folks here," Tuthill said.
The other council supporters are President Barb Johnson and members Don Samuels, John Quincy and Diane Hofstede.
Gary Schiff, the City Council's most vocal opponent of the plan, maintains that the plan requires a citywide vote because of the charter. "It's a clear end-run around the city charter and the will of Minneapolis voters," Schiff said.
Even as Rybak, Dayton and other stadium supporters cheered the breakthrough, Republicans who hold a majority in the House and Senate were still lukewarm to the stadium project as the Legislature heads into its final weeks.
Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, who chairs the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee, where the stadium project recently stalled, said he would leave it up to the stadium legislation's chief Senate sponsor to decide whether the bill should now get another hearing.
Asked if there is time to have another hearing this session, he said: "That's up to the leadership."
State Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans also acknowledged Monday that talks were still stalled with charitable gaming officials over the state's decision to allow electronic bingo and pull tabs to generate $398 million for the state's share of the stadium. Charitable gaming officials have said that the revenue package does not provide enough tax relief for charities -- the industry's main reason for wanting electronic bingo and pull tabs in the first place.
Dayton meanwhile also indicated that there was no solution yet on how to provide backup state financing -- that would not involve the state's general fund -- should revenue from electronic bingo and pull tabs fall short. "The question is, what will it be?" the governor said. "I'm open to suggestions."
Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, the chair of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, said late Monday that he was hopeful his panel could have the House's first hearing on the Vikings stadium plan later this week.
"Maybe I'm too optimistic, and maybe I'm naïve," Hoppe said. "[But] there's room to get this thing fixed," he said, referring to tax relief for charitable gambling interests and a state funding backup for the electronic bingo and pull tab revenue.
Dayton, however, said legislators wanting such a backup may be overly concerned. "Even if it's off by a third, it's still sufficient revenue," he said.
The governor conceded that -- even with Monday's announcement -- the stadium legislation still had major hurdles. "We don't have any agreement from [the charities]. We don't have any agreement from the Legislature," said Dayton. "We need lots of agreements in the next couple of weeks."
Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report. Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper Mike Kaszuba • 612-925-5045