Vikings stadium planners go after Minneapolis roadblocks

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA and ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 24, 2012 - 11:07 PM

Ted Mondale sees new stadium authority as a way to get around city charter requirement on a vote.

Negotiators for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium are working to sweep aside two major legal obstacles to building the project in Minneapolis, moves that are raising objections from stadium funding critics and supporters of an Arden Hills site.

Ted Mondale, Gov. Mark Dayton's top stadium negotiator, said that stadium legislation will seek to nullify a Minneapolis charter provision that requires voter approval if the city pays $10 million or more for a sports facility. The requirement, which city voters approved overwhelmingly in 1997, specifically includes city sales taxes. Minneapolis has proposed diverting those funds to help pay for a Vikings stadium.

Mondale said negotiators would argue that the city sales tax revenue would be deposited with a newly created -- and independent -- stadium authority that would spend the money. Because of that, he said, the city charter would not apply. "It really isn't the city spending that money," Mondale said. "In order to do this in Minneapolis, we need that" exemption from the city charter, he said.

He said lawyers were also confronting another obstacle: how to get around a charter requirement for nine City Council votes to sell city land. The Linden Avenue stadium site near the Basilica of St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis includes some city land, though its chances of being selected for the stadium diminished Monday when Gov. Mark Dayton told the Vikings it would not be workable.

To overcome the nine-vote requirement, Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission attorneys are citing a state law that overrides local charters when a public body sells land to another public entity.

That would require seven council votes, rather than a super-majority of nine. Commission spokesman Darin Broton said in an e-mail, however: "The city's legal counsel has a different point of view."

Both legal maneuvers, though not yet fully public, show the behind-the-scenes jockeying now at play as both Minneapolis and Ramsey County compete for the stadium. Stadium negotiators are trying to decide on a location and public subsidy funding plan for the Legislature, which convened Tuesday.

Opponents speak out

Minneapolis City Council Member Gary Schiff, a co-author of the 1997 amendment, said Mondale's funding plan violates the charter, no matter how he frames it.

"Funneling it to a sports authority to pay for a stadium versus funneling it directly to Zygi Wilf's pockets -- it doesn't matter," Schiff said. "It's the same thing. It's tax money going to a professional sports facility, which the voters have made clear they want to have a voice on."

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said she could not comment on the idea until she sees the legislation. "It all depends on what the deal is and what funds are being used," she said.

In Ramsey County, there were objections for different reasons.

"It's pretty disingenuous," Nick Riley, Ramsey County's chief lobbyist, said of what Mondale was doing. He said that while Mondale was working to erase legal obstacles to a stadium in Minneapolis, he was "not spending one ounce of his energy" trying to help Ramsey County win support for a 3 percent food and beverage tax needed to help the county's proposal win legislative backing.

Ramsey County wants to build a $1.1 billion stadium in Arden Hills, but key stadium legislators have balked at allowing the county to impose a local sales tax for the project without a voter referendum. County officials have argued that legislators routinely exempt cities wanting to levy such taxes from having to hold referendums.

"We're pretty frustrated with the way we're being treated over here," Riley said. He said that Mondale seemed to be saying that in Minneapolis "it's perfectly fine to overturn something that passed 70 percent to 30 percent by the residents."

A critical step

The fate of the city's charter requirement could be critical to any stadium bill at City Hall. Without a referendum, the funding plan already has six opponents out of 13 City Council members, and one undecided member has serious concerns about bypassing the charter.

The $10 million cap on sports facility spending in Minneapolis has long been controversial. Even before the provision was put before voters in November 1997 -- following a petition drive that netted thousands of signatures -- city officials debated whether it would apply across all city agencies.

Jim Mangan, who chaired the group that got the issue on the city ballot, said the intent was not to oppose government subsidies of sports facilities, but to encourage public debate about these projects. "If you're trying to do an end-run around it, you're trying to avoid the issue of: Is this a wise use of public resources?" said Mangan, who now lives in Wisconsin and works with a teachers union.

mkaszuba@startribune.com • 651-222-1673 eric.roper@startribune.com • 612-673-1732

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