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A rendering of the potential Arden Hills stadium.

, Minnesota Vikings

Food, drink tax touted to fund stadium

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON and KEVIN DUCHSCHERE
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • December 15, 2011 - 11:15 PM

Two Ramsey County commissioners sent a letter Thursday to key legislators saying a 3 percent countywide food and beverage tax is the "only viable financing plan" for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

Commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega have been pushing for a $1.1 billion stadium on a former munitions site in Arden Hills. They touted their financing plan in a letter to state Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont. They are the sponsors of stadium bills and have said they want to introduce a site-specific plan soon.

In a letter just more than a page long, the commissioners underlined two sentences: "This is the only viable financing plan on the table, and the only plan that would make the local share available immediately. Additionally, it is the only plan that has already been negotiated with the Vikings."

Others, however, aren't convinced it's the way to go.

County Finance Director Lee Mehrkens first raised the plan in legislative hearings this month, but the concept received a tepid reception. Rosen, who couldn't be reached for comment Thursday, said at that time those taxes were "not acceptable."

The letter proposes a cocktail of "special local taxes on food and beverages, liquor, lodging, entertaining and admissions" to generate about $24 million a year to support $350 million in bonds. The commissioners attached a legal analysis saying the taxes would require only legislative authorization and a County Board vote -- not a referendum of county voters.

The commissioners previously had offered a plan to increase the countywide sales tax by a half-cent to support the stadium bonds, but that tanked when a referendum push got rolling. Under that plan, the Vikings were to pay $407 million and the state $300 million.

After the county's sales tax plan died, Lanning said he told Bennett and Ortega that "they needed to bring some revenue to the table." He said that he expected that Ramsey County would propose a hospitality tax.

"I'm open to this option of raising revenue, and it's consistent with what we've allowed other communities to do, including the city of Minneapolis and others," Lanning said.

Minneapolis has a citywide 3 percent entertainment tax, a citywide 2.625 percent lodging tax, and downtown liquor and restaurant taxes of 3 percent. Revenues are used to pay off the city's convention center.

But County Board Chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt said that any plan requiring Ramsey County to shoulder an "undue burden" is "inappropriate."

Legislators "need to determine whether the Vikings are a state asset they want to keep and if they do, there should be a statewide solution, period.

"Quite frankly, it's irritating that they keep throwing it back to the county ... and making it seem like we have to come up with a solution for a statewide issue," Reinhardt said.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's spokesman Joe Campbell said, "The mayor fails to understand why a statewide asset should be paid for by a handful of residents."

Ortega said Thursday's letter was in response to a request from Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, that the county develop a new financing plan.

"I'm not saying that it's any more palatable at all," Ortega said. "You could do a statewide tax and take care of the whole thing. ... The bottom line is the Vikings are sticking with Arden Hills, they're saying, 'How would you make this plan work?'"

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said Ramsey County has the ideal site and a viable plan. "We look forward to working with state leaders to see if we can put a package together with the county and state," he said.

Other policymakers haven't settled on that site. Minneapolis continues to wade into the discussion but has yet to put forward a detailed plan.

raolson@startribune.com • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson kduchschere@startribune.com • 612-673-4455

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