Vikings stadium backers go into blitz formation

  • Article by: RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2012 - 2:21 PM

Labor unions, business leaders turn up the heat on legislators.

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A new stadium would be built on the eastern edge of downtown Minneapolis, next to the Metrodome. But time is short to pass such a bill.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Minneapolis City Council members will soon be contacted by up to 30,000 job-hungry labor union members, all eager for the construction work a new Minnesota Vikings stadium could bring.

Gov. Mark Dayton will lead a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday for the proposed stadium and may hit the road later this month for similar rallies across the state.

That's just the beginning as business leaders, labor, lobbyists and stadium supporters launch an all-out blitz to push the $975 million project over the goal line in the coming weeks.

"Now is when it gets serious," said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, which represents the state's largest corporations.

"We need to get some people to yes," said Todd Klingel, president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. "The wheels are already turning."

At stake are the hopes of many that the stadium will trigger a boomlet of development on the eastern edge of downtown, bringing jobs and fresh economic activity as well as securing the Vikings for a generation. But opposition remains strong, particularly among those who object to the state and city footing more than half the costs for yet another tricked-out sports arena.

On Friday, Tina Smith, Gov. Mark Dayton's chief of staff and a former chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, was making personal phone calls to swing votes on the Minneapolis City Council, where several members maintain that any diversion of taxes should go before city residents for a referendum vote.

Supporters admit passage could be an uphill climb but say they are getting to work immediately.

Dayton has pledged to keep "working on this project until we get it done." He'll be joined by throngs of building union trade members when he makes a public pitch at Tuesday's rally.

"We will raise a little noise ... [but] this is about sitting down and talking to legislators from both sides of the political aisle," said Harry Melander, president for the Minnesota State Building & Construction Trades Council. The tradesmen and women will lobby for the stadium, along with a big borrowing measure for state buildings.

The push will not lack for cash.

Between 2005 and 2010, the Vikings organization spent more than $3 million to lobby for their cause, making it one of the top spenders at the Capitol, according to state records. Last year alone it spent more than $300,000 on an advertising campaign and this year has an array of big-name lobbyists under contract.

Statewide business groups, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Business Partnership have their own lobbying forces and spend almost $3 million each year between then. While they are not exclusively focused on the stadium, they -- and their member CEOs -- could add to the case for a stadium.

Cory Merrifield, executive director of the advocacy group SaveTheVikes.org, plans to reach out to an e-mail list of 10,000 -- and thousands more on social networks -- to urge fans to contact their legislators by phone, e-mail and in person.

"Discussions are hot and heavy on the next phase of education and lobbying," said Klingel, who also is vice president of Homefield Advantage, a group that includes the Minneapolis chamber, the Downtown Council and labor interests.

Time running out

There are just about two months left in this year's legislative session, and there's a lot of work to do. Already, a bill that backers had hoped to introduce Monday will not be ready by then and was being worked on throughout the weekend. That delays the arduous process of moving a bill through legislative committees.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, has said he has no intention of letting the bill skip less friendly committees. He has diligently avoided taking any stand for or against the measure.

So far, backers do not know even which committees the stadium proposal will have to hit. That makes it hard for them to count support on any committee.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, noted pessimistically that "any committee could, frankly, take the bill down."

Some lawmakers say they are waiting for a sign of support from the Minneapolis City Council. But that may not be coming any time soon.

Powers of persuasion

After talking with Dayton's chief, Council Member Meg Tuthill said she remains undecided on the plan to redirect city taxes. Under the proposal, Minneapolis would be required to pay $150 million in construction costs and an additional $189 million for operating and capital expenses in coming years.

"If I were trying to sell an event, so to speak, I would start out with a pretty soft sell," Tuthill said.

Bill McCarthy, the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation president, said building trades members have also been calling council officials.

"They haven't changed their minds yet," he said.

Neither has Sen. Dave Hann, R-Eden Prairie, who remains opposed to the expansion of gambling needed to fund the state's $398 million share of costs. The stadium proposal would allow electronic pulltabs in thousands of bars and restaurants -- the first such expansion of video gambling beyond tribal casinos.

Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, said that, "I think there will be some strong opposition based on the gambling stand alone."

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, can't see his way to yet another public subsidy for a sports home.

"I can name a lot of people in both parties who oppose it," Marty said. But, he noted with resignation, that does not mean stadium supporters will fail.

"They've got a busload of lobbyists over here working the crowd," he said. "They've got a lot of money behind it. They could win. But they've got a huge obstacle."

Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report. Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb

 
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