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Coleman: Supporting Vikings stadium plan politically tough

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Funding, Minnesota legislature, Democrats, State budgets Updated: May 12, 2011 - 4:05 PM

By Rochelle Olson

In his first expansive comments on building a new Minnesota Vikings stadium in Ramsey County, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman expressed doubts Thursday  about a half percent county wide sales tax that would be levied for the project and said supporting the plan remains politically tough for him.

As mayor of the largest city in Ramsey County, Coleman’s support of the plan to build a $1 billion stadium in suburban Arden Hills is considered critical. The Vikings announced Tuesday they would contribute $407 million to the stadium, with the county raising $350 million largely through a sales tax increase and the state contributing $300 million.

But the mayor – who said he is still non-committal on the project -- said he considers the state requirement of a strong local government partner to be an "unfair burden."

"People in Virginia [Minnesota] watch the Vikings on TV. People in Mankato are eating buffalo wings and drinking beer on Sunday [and watching the games]," Coleman said, speaking to a reporter Thursday morning.

In analyzing whether to support the Arden Hills proposal, Coleman said, "I start with the premise the Vikings are an important asset. We've got to find a way to keep them here."

He said however he needs more information on this deal. Coleman said he does not know how the 0.5 percent sales tax collection breaks down, but said he has heard it raises from $28 million to $30 million -- with up to $17 million coming from St. Paul.

The mayor said he wants to know how the city benefits in this deal and if some of the sales taxes would go to libraries and parks in Ramsey County and St. Paul, just as the Hennepin County’s sales tax collections for the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field do.

Details of the Ramsey County-Vikings proposal, which were released Wednesday, do not mention such donations.

Instead, Coleman said the state should consider a statewide one-cent per bottle tax on beer and liquor as an alternative way to fund the stadium.  In his rough estimate, the mayor added, that tax could finance $250 million in bonds. Two cents per bottle would finance $500 million, or nearly the entire state-county portion, he added.

"It is important to a whole lot of people, but the Ramsey County proposal is a complicated one," Coleman said, adding that he was taking time for "due diligence" before coming out for or against the deal.

"I need to know those numbers," he said of the sales tax proposal. "What are they asking the residents and the people shopping in St. Paul to pay? What are the benefits of the Arden Hills site to St. Paul?"

The mayor also said he is not interested in winning a battle against Minneapolis to host a new Vikings stadium. “The fact that it's not in Minneapolis is not a reason to support something in Ramsey County," he said.

When it comes to sports, the mayor said, the Xcel Energy Center and the Minnesota Wild NHL team already in St. Paul are his main "challenge."

For example, the mayor said, the $150 million in upgrades to Target Center -- where the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves play in downtown MInneapolis -- that are in Mayor R.T. Rybak’s Minneapolis proposal for a new Vikings stadium could put the Xcel Center at a disadvantage, Coleman said.

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