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Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Tuesday the city is backing the Metrodome as its favored site for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium and wants to use the nearby Minneapolis Armory to create an enhanced game-day experience for fans.
"Our preferred site is the Metrodome,'' Rybak told a joint Senate committee hearing at the Capitol. "We believe that's significant. It does save, according to the numbers I just heard, about $215 million.''
Rybak said the presence of one (and eventually two) light-rail lines at the Metrodome and its lower costs compared to Arden Hills make the current home of the Vikings the best place for a new stadium. Proposals for sites at the farmers market and near the Basilica of St. Mary remain in the running, Rybak said, but will not have the city's official support.
"The bottom line is, we are prepared with existing revenue streams to put $300 million on the table,'' Rybak told senators, who heard 5 1/2 hours of testimony on stadium plans and ways to pay for them. Rybak acknowledged the revenue -- from city liquor, sales and lodging taxes -- is now dedicated to the Minneapolis Convention Center and may not be sufficient in the early years of the stadium project.
He said the Vikings' desire for activities outside the stadium led Minneapolis to consider ways to use the privately owned armory as an "event center field house, the centerpoint of a new game-day experience'' for the team's fans. In addition, he said, unspecified changes along 4th and 5th Streets between the stadium and armory could improve the fan experience.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the lead Senate stadium legislation author, later pronounced herself impressed. "I think that's getting to be a very viable option," said Rosen, noting the Metrodome would cost roughly $200 million less than the Vikings' preferred site in Ramsey County's Arden Hills.
Rybak's narrowing of his city's focus was the major development in a second day of wide-ranging testimony on the topic. The joint meeting of the Senate Taxes and State Government committees had no bill to examine or tax proposal to scrutinize. The Legislature won't be in session until Jan. 24.
'They will leave'
The committee chair, Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, asked Ted Mondale, Gov. Mark Dayton's point man on the stadium project, why the stadium is an urgent matter.
"If the Vikings continue to be at the lowest point of revenue and lose money or break even on their investment, as they are today ... then sooner or later they will leave,'' said Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. "When you have a business that's either losing money or not making money, as sure as winter comes or the leaves fall, they will leave.''
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team has heard from two cities seeking an NFL team -- Los Angeles and another he would not identify. "I would let that city speak for themselves,'' Bagley said.
Rybak said a meeting with the Vikings Monday afternoon was "very productive.'' At the hearing, Bagley said the Vikings' commitment to spend $425 million is "site-specific" to Arden Hills.
Rybak said the tax pool that supports the Minneapolis Convention Center includes a one-half percent citywide sales tax, a 3 percent tax on restaurant and liquor sales in the downtown core and a 2.6 percent tax on lodging. Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman said she would "strongly oppose" diverting taxes that maintain the Convention Center to a Vikings stadium.
"Make no mistake, we want this in Minneapolis,'' Rybak said after his committee appearances. "We believe strongly it could be most successful there. We intend to compete for that.'' He added that sometimes competing communities "tend to rip each other's eyes out. I don't intend to do that with my good friends in Ramsey County.''
The Star Tribune owns land near the Metrodome site, and its value could be affected by the stadium decision.
Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, who has advocated for the Arden Hills site, said he is frustrated with the pro-Minneapolis tilt the search appears to be taking.
"It seems like I'm back in the Legislature and everything is done in the back hallway,'' said Bennett, who served in the Minnesota House in the 1970s and 1980s. "We have gone through every single hoop we have been asked for by the Legislature and everyone, and they won't give us the time of day.''
Ortman said the sheer breadth of testimony coming out of the two Senate hearings had convinced her "we were not, at any point, ready to have a special session on a stadium proposal." Dayton originally pushed for a special session this year.
Senate committee members learned some portion of the Vikings' contribution to the stadium would be lent to the team by the National Football League. Vikings officials testified they had no plans to build a convention center in Arden Hills but said they may sell "personal seat licenses,'' a premium charged to season ticket buyers that has helped pay for stadiums in other cities.
The committee also heard testimony on benefits and drawbacks of various gambling options and on use of public funds. Erma Vizenor of the White Earth Tribal Council pitched a proposal to build a tribal casino near the new stadium to benefit the tribe and help pay for the stadium.
Outside the Capitol, a group opposed to the Arden Hills project submitted an initial batch of 500 signatures to Ramsey County. They hope to gain approval for a full petition drive that would allow residents to vote on stopping the stadium from being built there.
Staff writers Eric Roper and Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042