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Vikings, reluctantly, agree to talk to Minneapolis about stadium site

Posted by: under Funding, Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, State budgets Updated: November 29, 2011 - 2:24 PM

Despite reiterating that the team was pledged to building a new stadium in Ramsey County, the Minnesota Vikings agreed Tuesday to meet with Minneapolis officials one more time to explore staying in the state’s largest city.

In a four-hour state Capitol hearing that offered no startling revelations, but several enticing subplots, the Vikings ongoing stadium push reemerged as critics, lobbyists and fans wearing purple Vikings jerseys filed before a Senate panel to plea for and against the proposed $1.1 billion project.

“There is no done deal here as far as I’m aware of,” said Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, who chairs the influential Senate Taxes Committee and presided over Tuesday’s hearing. “There is no fait accompli.”  A second hearing will be held Dec. 6.

In one of the hearing’s pivotal moments, Ortman pointedly told Lester Bagley, the team’s vice president for stadium development and public affairs, that it would be “in your best interest” to meet again with Minneapolis officials before partnering with Ramsey County and firmly committing to a site in Arden Hills.   While Bagley said the team would oblige, he said that with Ramsey County “we think it’s important that we stick with the local partner that sticks with us.”

But Ortman said afterward she was concerned how Ramsey County would pay for its $350 million share of the project after Gov. Mark Dayton and other legislative leaders effectively removed allowing the county to increase local sales taxes to fund the project. Ortman, who until Tuesday had not been a major stadium player at the state Capitol, said she wanted to know from Ramsey County “how are they going to fill that gap?”

Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, who was part of the day’s most intriguing exchange, said he believed that existing city taxes being used to help pay for Minneapolis’ convention center could be diverted to help pay for the stadium in the city. “We’re the only ones bringing any money to the table,” the mayor said.

But city officials acknowledged that City Council support for funding a new Vikings stadium may still be lacking, and that Minneapolis would need legislative help to maneuver around city charter provisions that capped how much the city could pay towards a stadium. In addition Rybak said that, without input from the Vikings, city officials and business leaders still did not know which of three downtown sites to officially support.

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, however told Rybak that the city might be too late.

“There’s some who would say that you’re a little late to the dance here,” said Michel. “What are you waiting for?”

Michel also said the city needed to support just one downtown site. “You got three, you really got none,” he told the mayor.

Despite the comments, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief Senate author of stadium legislation, said after the hearing that Minneapolis could still end up with the new stadium. “Whether they came late to the table or not, they’re still at the table,” she said.

As he left the hearing, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House author of Vikings stadium legislation, said the day’s events produced little new information except for “maybe a few nuances.”

Lanning also said that Rybak’s comments concerning using existing city sales tax money for the stadium were interesting, but that “we haven’t seen any [formal] proposal yet.”

He added that he paid careful attention when Rybak and Barb Johnson, Minneapolis’ City Council president, answered whether there was City Council support for funding a Minneapolis stadium. “I think we heard a hesitation,” he said.

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