Gov. Dayton: It's time to get serious about Vikes stadium

  • Article by: MARK DAYTON
  • Updated: November 12, 2011 - 3:31 PM

Legislative leaders need to stop dawdling and start negotiating.

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When I'm asked what I mean by a "people's stadium" that could host the Minnesota Vikings and other events, I say it should be a facility owned by the people of Minnesota and operated for their economic and social benefit.

At a time when more than 200,000 people are out of work in our state, we have the chance to create several thousand jobs to clear a blighted site, build the stadium and other commercial facilities, and then operate them.

In the owners of the Vikings, we have partners willing to make an investment that may approach $500 million.

We have the opportunity either to clean up a contaminated 430-acre site in Arden Hills and fill it with jobs-producing enterprises, or to rehabilitate an underutilized section of Minneapolis, with similar jobs-creating benefits.

I wish we had the reasons and the means to develop both sites for their resulting economic and environmental benefits.

And we have the ability to structure the public financing so that not one general tax dollar would be used to pay for the project. Revenues could be generated by taxes on stadium items like tickets and souvenirs, and by adding electronic pulltabs to already existing charitable gambling.

So why aren't we seizing this opportunity to put several thousand unemployed Minnesotans to work?

Last month I proposed a special session of the Legislature to resolve the stadium controversy with an up-or-down vote. That proposal was rejected in favor of legislative hearings as yet undefined and unscheduled.

One reason given for delay was that "there isn't a plan." I said weeks ago that I would present a plan last Monday, and I was on track to do so -- until my timetable was derailed.

In my experience, a firm deadline is one of the essential requirements to complete complex negotiations. I had set one; now none exists.

Given where we are today, this is how I propose we proceed.

First, legislative leaders need to set a date by which the terms of any stadium project to be considered by the Legislature must be finalized. They and I would then appoint a site-neutral negotiating team, consisting of the Republican and DFL authors of the legislation; stadium, real estate and financing experts, and an experienced negotiator.

Ramsey County and the city of Minneapolis could add representatives for the negotiations involving their respective projects. I urge Minneapolis officials to narrow the three locations they are presently considering to one preferred site.

The negotiating team would then negotiate the best possible deal for both the Arden Hills and Minneapolis projects with the Vikings, the local partner and anyone else necessary.

By the legislative deadline, the negotiating team would make public the details of each project. That's the time for the Legislature to hold hearings and let all Minnesotans express their views. It's also the time to decide the sources of non-general-fund revenues, which would pay off the bonds.

Rejecting both Ramsey County's and Minneapolis' plans to raise local sales taxes without a referendum offers the virtue of keeping the public financing free of any state or local general tax dollars.

The public share of financing this project then falls upon the state of Minnesota. However, to repeat, we can generate the necessary revenues without raising anyone's taxes by a single dollar (except users of the stadium or of gambling establishments).

Being the major public partner gives us important advantages. As the project's largest investor, we have rightful claim to public ownership of the stadium and ultimate control of its operations, obviously in partnership and cooperation with the Vikings.

A public authority would manage the "people's stadium" for the people of Minnesota.

Lastly, legislative leaders should set a date certain for the full Legislature to vote on a final proposal. I still believe that a special session is the best way to get the cleanest, clearest and best resolution.

However, if legislators insist on waiting until the regular session begins next Jan. 24, I urge them to set Feb. 24, one month later, as the date certain for final votes.

I believe a decision to build a new stadium is best for Minnesota. Let's put several thousand Minnesotans back to work and keep the Vikings here!

* * *

Mark Dayton, a DFLer, is governor of Minnesota.

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