Vikings stadium deal stays out of reach

The governor said he is still hopeful but won't use the word "optimistic" anymore as supporters await Minneapolis council backing.

With time slipping away for legislative approval this spring, the push to finalize an agreement on a new Minnesota Vikings stadium at or near the Metrodome seemed to rest more than ever Tuesday with the Minneapolis City Council.

After an hourlong meeting that included every major player in the stadium saga -- except officials from Minneapolis -- Gov. Mark Dayton emerged to say that an agreement may not occur until next week, if at all.

The meeting, called by Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, appeared to dash nearly a week of speculation that final agreement on a subsidy package for a nearly $1 billion stadium was days, if not hours, away.

"I'm hopeful. I don't use the word 'optimistic' with this project any longer," Dayton said. "The number of issues that remain are limited, and can be overcome if all the parties are willing."

While it remained unclear whether the City Council's endorsement is needed for the project to proceed, a lack of political support on the 13-member body continued to be a vexing problem for the project's backers. Dayton said that Ted Mondale, his chief stadium negotiator, would talk again Wednesday with city officials.

Although Dayton and Wilf would not discuss details, multiple sources have reported that a preliminary agreement for a $975 million stadium at or near the Metrodome would have the Vikings pledge $427 million, the state add $398 million and the city contribute $150 million to the building's construction. The city, according to sources, would add another $180 million for the stadium's long-term operation.

The governor, who has taken aim at the City Council previously, said Tuesday that he hoped those members who oppose the stadium package realize "that this is a tremendous boon in terms of jobs, in terms of downtown revitalization, in terms of the future of the city. It's a bigger picture than some of them [understand]."

But the hurdles in Minneapolis remained twofold: A City Council majority does not back a plan to use city taxes for a stadium without a referendum, and stadium supporters insist that including money for the city's Target Center would be likely to cost the package legislative votes.

City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, an opponent of the city's proposed subsidy package, said Tuesday that requiring Minneapolis to be a major financial player for a Vikings stadium used a "flawed framework."

"I always will listen to all sides, but I am comfortable and I am firm in my position," Glidden said. "And I certainly am thinking about the future of the city."

Another City Council member, Meg Tuthill, who said she remains undecided on the stadium plan, contended that a statewide sales tax increase on liquor and food in bars and restaurants makes more sense. "I don't know why the Legislature can't see that," she said.

"I think that is the fairest tax. It's the fairest way for public money to be used," Tuthill said Tuesday. "We talked to friends in northern Minnesota over the weekend and the folks in the grocery stores here in our community -- that's the one that they all want."

The press of time

Time, however, remained perhaps the biggest enemy for any stadium plan emerging this spring.

The Legislature, which has been in session for a month, could adjourn in mid- to late April -- which would already leave barely enough time for the controversial project to weave its way through multiple hearings and final approval at the State Capitol.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with the governor, Wilf said the team would pledge more than $400 million to a new stadium at or near the Metrodome, where the team has played for three decades. But he also said he was not completely ruling out a stadium in Ramsey County's Arden Hills, which the team had for nearly a year said was its preferred location.

"We don't feel they're major points" holding up an agreement in Minneapolis, Wilf said. "I think over the next couple of days, or week, we'll be able to get it done."

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House stadium legislation author, likewise left the meeting in the governor's office with little to report. "It won't be today. It won't be tomorrow," Lanning said of a stadium agreement, as he turned and walked away.

mkaszuba@startribune.com • 651-925-5045 eric.roper@startribune.com • 612-673-1732

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