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Making his most intensive attempt yet to keep the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis, Mayor R.T. Rybak went to the State Capitol on Thursday to promote three plans that rely on a combination of new sales taxes or casino gambling revenue to pay for the local share of a downtown football stadium.
He acknowledged that getting political backing for his plans will be tricky.
"I'm here today because I'm comfortable standing up, and putting my neck and other parts of my anatomy on the line," he said.
In a testament to how difficult his task may be, Rybak made his Capitol pitch alone -- with no City Council members or downtown leaders by his side.
And just hours before Rybak touted his plans, several legislators from Minneapolis, including DFL Sen. Scott Dibble, appeared at a news conference with a group of Republican colleagues who oppose any expansion of gambling to help build a Vikings stadium. Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said advocates are minimizing that casino gambling "is highly destructive to individuals, to families."
The Vikings also quickly dismissed Rybak's proposal, saying the team is committed to Ramsey County. "Arden Hills is the ideal stadium site for the state, the Vikings and our fans," the team said in statement, almost as soon as Rybak ended his briefing.
One funding option presented by Rybak would rely on a citywide sales tax to fund Minneapolis' share of the project. A second approach would allow for a downtown casino on Block E, with 5 percent of revenue going to the stadium until 2020, when it would drop to 3 percent. Casino operators would also pay a $20 million licensing fee.
Both mechanisms would allow the city to draw from a wider base than just city taxpayers, tapping those who come to Minneapolis for work or play.
The day held other stadium-related developments: Gov. Mark Dayton toured the Arden Hills site by helicopter in advance of announcing his own stadium plan by Nov. 7, and the AFL-CIO, one of the state's major labor unions, proclaimed a Block E casino "a job-creating way to pay for [a] stadium."
Cost benefits cited
Rybak insisted that it was not too late to dissuade the Vikings from building a $1.1 billion stadium in Arden Hills. He said even the costliest Minneapolis plan, a $1.046 billion stadium at the so-called Farmers Market site near Target Field, would cost roughly $100 million less than the Arden Hills location and would provide city property tax relief by renovating Target Center and restructuring its debt.
But in another day of swirling stadium politics, the mayor's briefing showed that while there are many stadium plans, none is yet being embraced by Dayton and legislative leaders.
Ted Mondale, Dayton's chief stadium negotiator, said he was unsure how the governor would react to Rybak's proposal. "The governor said, 'I want to see all proposals.' So Rybak said, 'OK, I've got one. Here you go,'" Mondale said.
Rybak's plans were not immediately endorsed by even his own council members.
City Council Member Cam Gordon said he supports the goal of restructuring Target Center's debt, but opposes a citywide sales tax to fund it.
"I think the governor and the Legislature need to start realizing that these are bigger amenities that serve other people," Gordon said of a Vikings stadium and Target Center. "And they should be funded for privately or at a bigger level than the city."
Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, a leading advocate for having the county contribute $350 million to the Arden Hills stadium, was also critical. "We're shovel-ready, we've got property in hand -- we don't have to negotiate for it -- and our property's been vetted," he said. "We've got a commitment from the Vikings."
Rybak presented two funding options for each of the three Minneapolis sites -- six possibilities, in all.
The first option would use sales taxes to fund the city's share of the stadium -- Rybak's preferred choice. The city's sales tax would rise .35 percent to a total of .85 percent. The plan would also add an additional 1 percent tax to the city's hotel tax, bringing it to 3.62 percent.
The second option relies on casino revenues. The mayor's newest proposed site, behind the Basilica of St. Mary and referred to by Rybak as the Linden Avenue site, would use the higher sales tax to raise $285 million for the project, and leave the city contributing $9 million annually for operating costs. The site's primary landowners are the city and Xcel Energy and the property, according to Rybak, "made a ton of sense" for a stadium.
All three plans would generate $100 million to renovate the 21-year-old Target Center; Rybak said Thursday he would not have come forward with a stadium plan without addressing challenges facing the city-owned home of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
A consultant who appeared with Rybak said the sales tax plan would raise about $21 million a year in new revenue, part of which Rybak said he wants to use to replace city property taxes now paying the Target Center debt. That move, said the mayor, also would add $5 million in revenue annually to Minneapolis' budget, which Rybak wants to use for property tax relief.
Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat, who led the initiative to use a county sales tax to help build Target Field, said Rybak's financing plan for the Vikings "sounds complicated to me."
Although Dayton wants a special legislative session by Thanksgiving to resolve the stadium issue, Sen. David Thompson, R-Lakeville, disputed the notion that legislators had to act quickly to keep the Vikings from leaving Minnesota. The team's lease at the Metrodome, the Vikings' home for 29 years, expires after this year. "It wouldn't be making the Vikings leave. It would be the ownership of the Vikings making the decision to leave [and] the NFL allowing them because they didn't get from us what they want," he said.
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report.
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SEE video coverage of Mayor R.T. Rybak and his stadium proposals at startribune.com/video.