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Continued: Stadium proposal could be Rybak's greatest challenge

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 10, 2011 - 11:35 PM

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has proven himself a Teflon politician in his home city, but the Minnesota Vikings stadium proposal he outlined Monday may pose his greatest political test.

Even after team owner Zygi Wilf announced a deal with Ramsey County on Tuesday that would build a billion-dollar stadium in Arden Hills, Rybak remained confident he could sell his plan that would replace the Metrodome with a roofed stadium and refurbish Target Center.

In a tweet on Tuesday afternoon, the mayor pledged he would "keep working on our practical, affordable plan 4 two stadiums, tax relief.''

But the reluctant Vikings aren't his only challenge. He also needs to persuade the Legislature, the Minnesota Timberwolves and at least six more City Council members to endorse the plan. And, he's battling the calendar and a public skeptical of more taxes.

Under the Minneapolis proposal, the city would kick in $195 million toward an $895 million stadium. The money would come from several sources, including the expansion of a downtown-only bar and restaurant tax to citywide and a 0.15 percent city sales tax.

Among Rybak's potential problems:

• Shedding the vestiges of his stance against city subsidies to developers in general, and sports facilities in particular, that helped propel him into office in 2001. He supported Hennepin County's proposal for Target Field, but this time he's in the lead.

• Concern that consumers might head to suburbs with lower sales, bar and restaurant taxes if the plan is approved.

• Making the case at the Legislature that Minneapolis can afford new taxes might undercut the portrayal of the city as desperately needing its full share of local government aid and state help on pension funding.

• Promising property tax relief yet still having to increase taxes because of such factors as the threatened elimination of local government aid. Rybak didn't promise taxes would drop; rather, relief might mean holding an increase down.

The risks are not Rybak's alone. The plan's other announced supporter, Council President Barbara Johnson, is in her fourth term, and Fourth Ward voters gave her only 47 percent of their first-choice votes in 2009, the first with ranked-choice balloting.

Council votes, city voices

According to one source familiar with their views, four council members so far are behind the proposal. The three undecided votes could depend on whether the 3 percent downtown bar and restaurant tax is expanded to the entire city or just selected areas such as Uptown, the University of Minnesota area, or Lake Street.

"I don't own a business downtown, where I might benefit from a new stadium," said Kim Bartmann, who owns or runs several restaurants. "Obviously, there's going to be some kicking and screaming about this."

Rybak and Johnson are selling the proposal by saying it will do more than keeping the Vikings. It also would provide $100 million toward renovating the Target Center, pay that building's debt, and switch $5 million annually from that debt to property tax relief.

Rybak said the plan would alleviate property taxes by $5 million, but he didn't pledge the levy would drop because he knows that's highly dependent on legislative actions. Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed that the city keep its full $87.5 million in state aid; House Republicans want to end it. Rybak has said he wouldn't raise the property tax if the city keeps full aid and gets state help on police and fire pension costs.

Reaction to fees and taxes

The stadium proposal would raise game-day parking meter and ramp fees downtown and add a 3 percent admission tax on all events at the new stadium. But it's the more general taxes -- the 0.15 percent city sales tax and expansion of the bar and restaurant tax -- that have drawn the most reaction.

Molly Broder, owner of two southwest Minneapolis eateries, said she actually loses business during Vikings games. Now, with possible added liquor and meal taxes, she's worried about competing with Edina restaurants about 15 blocks away. "There is no benefit for us. But I wonder if the city is trying to do something it can't afford."

Joyce Wisdom, staff director for the Lake Street Council, said of the package: "It is not going to have support from the Lake Street small-business community."

Some point to Hennepin County as an example of how those voting for a sports-related sales tax can survive politically.

But County Commissioner Mark Stenglein said a key difference is that the Target Field package was negotiated ahead of time and had solid support from a majority of board members. It also involved just one tax.

Rybak needs to get to seven of 13 council votes in the face of vocal public opposition. "I think it'll be a huge challenge," Stenglein said.

Supporters of the proposal have briefed individual council members in private.

Kevin Reich, Diane Hofstede, Don Samuels, Lisa Goodman and Elizabeth Glidden didn't return calls seeking their position on the proposal.

Hofstede attended Monday's news conference. She, Reich and Samuels are said by sources to view the proposal most favorably.

Some council members oppose any subsidies for sports facilities; others like Gary Schiff, Cam Gordon and Goodman have said they favor only fees or taxes that fall on stadium users.

Staff writer Paul Levy contributed to this report. Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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