BY MIKE KASZUBA AND ERIC ROPER
Mayor R. T. Rybak announced Monday that a majority of Minneapolis’ City Council now backed a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, setting up a last ditch effort by Gov. Mark Dayton to persuade reluctant Republican legislators at the state Capitol to back the project.
The surprise announcement, coming after weeks of intense lobbying in Minneapolis, removed a major obstacle to a public subsidy package for the proposed $975 million stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Minneapolis would contribute $150 million to building the stadium, plus an additional $189 million to help operate it.
“Now [the] motion shifts over here to the Legislature,” said Rybak, standing at a state Capitol press conference with four City Council members. “If the Legislature acts, the City Council will act as well.”
But even as Rybak, Dayton and other stadium supporters celebrated the break through Republicans, who hold a majority in the House and Senate, were again lukewarm to the stadium project as the Legislature heads into its final weeks.
The job of convincing seven of the City Council's 13 members spilled into the weekend and ended with City Council members Sandra Colvin Roy and Kevin Reich agreeing to back the project. Rybak said that new computer spreadsheets outlining the city’s financial commitment, and dispelling concerns that there might be a funding gap, were made available during the middle of last week and seemed to sway the final votes.
Dan McConnell, a Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council official, said that not until almost 10 p.m. Sunday were the final votes secured. “They came on together,” McConnell said of Colvin Roy and Reich.
City Council President Barb Johnson said Monday that “towards the end of [last] week” she knew she had commitments from seven City Council members. “I’ve been talking – ongoing – to council members, and people were in different places, so I just [kept] talking to them,” she said.
Colvin Roy and Reich were under intense pressure from labor groups over the weekend. McConnell said he spoke with both Colvin Roy and Reich over the weekend – as well as stadium opponents on the City Council – and said Monday that local labor leaders had targeted the two City Council members over the past two days by stressing why the construction industry needed the jobs.
“We talked to a lot of people that were at [local political] conventions this weekend,” said McConnell, the business manager for the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council. “We had people talking to them that were constituents from their wards.
“We had, you know, people throughout their wards. We had ‘patch-through’ calls” to the key City Council members,” said McConnell. “We did surveys.”
The letters from the seven City Council members included caveats.
Both Colvin Roy and Reich included sentences in their letters that specifically stated that they would not vote for a Vikings stadium package that “violates the city charter” – a reference to a city charter provision that caps city spending on sports facilities to no more than $10 million without a voter referendum.
“I will not take a vote on a Vikings stadium that violates the city’s charter. I am bound by the city charter and any city funding must meet the requirements set forth in our governing documents,” wrote Reich, who represents the city’s First Ward.
The mayor said that because the city taxes being diverted for a Vikings stadium were authorized by the state – and also would technically be spent by the state -- the city charter provision did not apply. Rybak said that Reich’s letter “clearly stated” that the City Council member was now backing the stadium project.
Colvin Roy’s letter may have been the most crucial to sealing the deal. She said in January that she could not “countenance going around” the city’s charter provision requiring a referendum on sports facilities costing more than $10 million in city funds.
City Attorney Susan Segal later argued that the plan did not trigger that referendum, prompting Colvin Roy to start looking into the details of the plan. She classified her initial comments as a “knee-jerk reaction to the idea of funding for professional sports.
“I made a statement about the referendum," Colvin Roy said. "I did not have the legal opinion about whether it would be triggered or not, whether it would be required. And now I do. And once I did have that, I disregarded my personal feelings and started looking at facts. And those facts led me to a decision that I am hoping people I represent will take the time to find out how it can actually help our city.”
She said Monday she is convinced that the deal will mean property tax relief for Minneapolis residents, which helped solidify her support.
“I didn’t change my mind. I made up my mind,” Colvin Roy said Monday. “And it took, as you know, an agonizingly long time for me to do it.”
The Vikings also supported Monday’s development. “We’re very appreciative of the support we’re getting from the City Council,” said Vikings team president and co-owner Mark Wilf. “We’re excited that this will move this forward at the Legislature.”
Monday’s announcement put more pressure on Dayton and stadium supporters to resolve the project’s other major unresolved issues.
Republican reaction to the city’s announcement was muted.
Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, who chairs the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee, where the stadium project recently stalled, said he would be open to having another hearing on the stadium bill. But he said he would leave it up to the stadium legislation’s chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, to decide whether the bill should now get another hearing.
“I haven’t polled the members myself,” said Vandeveer.
Asked if there is time to have another hearing this session, he said: “That’s up to the leadership.”
State Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans also acknowledged Monday that talks were still stalled with charitable gaming officials over the state’s decision to allow electronic bingo and pull tabs in order to generate $398 million for the state’s share of the stadium. Charitable gaming officials have said that the revenue package does not provide enough tax relief for charities – the industry’s main reason for wanting electronic bingo and pull tabs in the first place.
Dayton meanwhile also indicated that there was no solution yet on how to provide backup state financing – that did not involve the state’s general fund – should revenue from electronic bingo and pull tabs fall short.
“The question is, what will it be?” said the governor. “I’m open to suggestions.”
Dayton however said legislators wanting such a backup may be overly concerned. “Even if it’s off by a third, it’s still sufficient revenue,” he said.
At least one Republican however was optimistic.
Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, the chair of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, said late Monday that he was hopeful his panel could have the House’s first hearing on the Vikings stadium plan later this week.
“Maybe I’m too optimistic, and maybe I’m naïve,” he said. “[But] there’s room to get this thing fixed”, referring to tax relief for charitable gaming interests and a state funding back up for the electronic bingo and pull tab revenue.
“There’s enough money around, either from the Vikings, or the city of Minneapolis or Hennepin County or, you know, various different pots of money” to provide a state funding back up, he said.
Hoppe also defended House Speaker Kurt Zellers, the chief House Republican who has said he will not take the lead in pushing for the stadium’s public subsidy package. “Everything thinks he wants to kill it,” said Hoppe. “He could have killed it a lot of different ways” by now.
The governor however conceded that – even with Monday’s announcement – the stadium still had more major hurdles. “We don’t have any agreement from [the charities]. We don’t have any agreement from the Legislature,” said Dayton. “We need lots of agreements in the next couple of weeks.”
Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this article.
Here are the letters: