Two weeks before a crucial legislative session for a new Vikings stadium, a vocal critic of public funding is accusing Gov. Mark Dayton's stadium point man of trimming the facts to gain a bigger subsidy.
State Sen. John Marty, a Roseville DFLer, said on Monday that Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chair Ted Mondale is putting out "biased, and at times, inaccurate information" to woo legislators to subsidize the proposed $1.1 billion stadium, which the team hopes to build in Arden Hills.
Mondale denied the allegation, saying Marty is misreading the numbers: "He doesn't serve the public debate by insinuating bad faith."
The pointed exchange came as Minneapolis officials scrambled to meet Dayton's Thursday deadline for a final stadium proposal that would redirect existing downtown sales taxes to a new stadium on the Metrodome site while paying off Target Center debt and keeping the Convention Center afloat.
Ramsey County officials are under the gun as well. Under its stadium plan, the Vikings would pay $425 million and state and local governments would pay $650 million.
Mondale, chair of the commission that owns and operates the Metrodome on the public's behalf, testified at legislative hearings after Thanksgiving that most recent NFL stadium deals have involved more public than private dollars. He said cities that have lost NFL teams invariably paid "triple or four times" years later to get a new team compared to what they would have spent to keep the old one.
In his letter, Marty said the public-private funding figures Mondale pointed to were inconsistent and that he failed to mention that two companies are competing to build a privately financed stadium in Los Angeles nearly 20 years after two NFL teams fled the city for more promising venues.
"I don't find it surprising at all that Mr. [Zygi] Wilf is asking for hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, but wouldn't it be possible to have some public officials ask does it have to be that large?" Marty asked.
Mondale said the Los Angeles market is far larger than the Twin Cities and not a valid comparison. Most of the markets the size of the Twin Cities used a combination of public and private dollars to build recent NFL stadiums, he said.
"You can't make [the Vikings] financially viable in a media market of this size if you don't have a significant public share," Mondale said. "The whole reason we're doing this is so the team can make money. What we want is a financially viable franchise for the next 30 or 40 years."
No firm numbers
In Minneapolis, officials were still analyzing unpredictable sales taxes, the long-term needs of the Convention Center, how the Target Center debt will be paid and what the city's total contribution will be. They won't have firm numbers on paper until Thursday's presentation to the governor.
"The numbers are changing daily," Jeremy Hanson Willis, Mayor R.T. Rybak's chief of staff, said on Monday.
One legal hurdle the city has to overcome is a charter amendment that requires a referendum if more than $10 million in city funds is used to build a stadium. Amendment author Gary Schiff, who sits on the City Council, said he believes the city would have to hold a referendum unless the Legislature overrides the charter. But city officials said they do not know whether a vote would be required under their plan.
That amendment could be a major issue moving forward, since legislative leaders have shown little interest in overriding local tax votes.
Mark Kaplan, a stadium commission consultant and former City Council member, said legislators could take the stance that the city requirement wouldn't apply since the taxes are authorized by the state and would be run through the state.
"Theoretically, any of these taxes that go to a stadium aren't being allocated by the city, they're being allocated by the state," Kaplan said.
Minneapolis Chief Financial Officer Kevin Carpenter interjected, "We're not saying that's our position." Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder said later that he has not explored Kaplan's argument.