Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak brought his controversial plan to fund a Minnesota Vikings stadium to the voters on Tuesday night at a testy but civil public forum near Lake Nokomis.
The event offered a glimpse into some of the voter unease over what is arguably the riskiest political bet of Rybak's 10-year career as mayor. He has proposed redirecting city sales taxes to pay for $150 million of the nearly $1 billion stadium, plus an additional $189 million for ongoing expenses.
Stadium opponents and supporters made themselves known among the 100 people crowded into a gym at the Lake Nokomis Community Center. Based on moments of applause, the crowd appeared fairly evenly split on the stadium issue.
Several people stood holding signs reading "Stop Stadium Taxes!" while others displayed stickers reading "Minneapolis Majority for a Minneapolis Stadium."
During the hourlong event, Rybak frequently returned to his central argument that the plan will invest in the hospitality industry and simultaneously lower property taxes by aiding the city-owned Target Center.
Opponents in the crowd shot back that the plan requires a citywide vote -- a referendum that the mayor opposes. One man rose to read Rybak the text of the city's charter amendment requiring a vote when Minneapolis spends more than $10 million on a stadium.
"How can you get around saying the people do not have a right to vote on it?" the man asked, adding that the mayor has "danced around" the issue.
Rybak said the city attorney has told him a referendum isn't legally triggered by his plan, since the taxes are controlled by the state. He later added it was an oral -- not written -- opinion from the city's counsel.
He also believes his plan is broader than the charter amendment overwhelmingly approved by residents in 1997.
"I believe that the question before the residents of Minneapolis is do you want me to take an action that will lower your property taxes, take the obligation for Target Center off us, come up with long-term funding for the Convention Center and make a billion- dollar investment in the city?" Rybak said. "I think the answer is yes."
At times, the question session turned into a forum for audience members to rise and state their views on both sides of the debate.
"I would really like to see the stadium built just because we really need the jobs," one woman said.
Carol Becker, a former aide to Rybak's predecessor who is now one of his most outspoken critics, argued that the taxes proposed for use on the stadium project qualify as city taxes since they were approved by the City Council. She also said they are largely paid by average residents in the form of a citywide sales tax.
Rybak accused Becker of helping orchestrate the city's purchase of Target Center in the 1990s, which she denied.
Sitting in the front row was Rybak's crucial vote on the City Council, Sandra Colvin Roy, whose change of heart last month gave him majority support on the 13-member body. Council Member John Quincy, a stadium supporter, was among the crowd, as were council opponents Cam Gordon and Gary Schiff.
Tuesday's forum was the first of several opportunities for the public to weigh in and learn about the plan.
Council opponents of the plan have scheduled a formal hearing at City Hall on April 24. That is expected to include a key test vote on whether the city should endorse the plan as a part of its legislative agenda.
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper