Coleman: Booze tax may be stadium solution

St. Paul's mayor says 2-cent per drink tax could build a Vikings stadium in Minneapolis and upgrade Xcel Energy Center. The team isn't buying.

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St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman

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St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman floated a jumbo-sized plan Wednesday that would address Minnesota's stadium dilemma with a new statewide tax of 2 cents per alcoholic drink while keeping the Vikings in Minneapolis and moving pro basketball to St. Paul.

Coleman said his plan would raise $48 million a year for sports facilities. He said a Vikings plan to move to Ramsey County doesn't make sense; his plan would not move the team but send the Timberwolves and the Lynx to St. Paul to share the Xcel Energy Center with the Wild. Target Center in downtown Minneapolis would become a practice facility.

Coleman also would use the per-drink tax at bars and restaurants to build a St. Paul Saints ballpark in Lowertown and upgrade recreation facilities throughout the state.

Coleman called his plan a "regional approach" and said it "gives us a point on the horizon to sail to."

Some leaders involved in the stadium debate expressed intrigue with the global approach and fee. But others, including the Timberwolves and the Vikings, called some of it too late and unacceptable.

"We're going to Arden Hills," Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said repeatedly.

Gov. Mark Dayton's point person on stadium issues, Ted Mondale, said, "It's a big idea and it's interesting. We obviously have a number of sports facilities in deep trouble."

Coleman's proposal came two days after the Legislature adjourned without holding a hearing on a Vikings stadium plan and, without a statewide budget deal, no certainty it will be addressed during a special session.

In Coleman's view, pro sports teams are statewide assets and the cost should be shared accordingly. He came out Wednesday for the first time against a proposed half-cent sales tax increase in Ramsey County to help cover the cost of a $1 billion Vikings stadium at a former munitions site in Arden Hills. Coleman said the site came with unknown reclamation costs and didn't make sense, given transit investments elsewhere.

His proposed mega-solution was an attempt to come up with an alternative, the mayor told reporters. It remains to be seen whether Coleman's proposal hits a target or falls onto the heap of rejected ideas. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and city leaders announced a new stadium plan earlier this month to rebuild on the Metrodome site and upgrade Target Center.

Timberwolves Vice President Ted Johnson said, "We are very happy with our home in Minneapolis. We continue to believe that the best path forward is the sensible solution of renovating Target Center." In a statement, the Wild welcomed potential new tenants, saying the Xcel could easily be renovated for the Timberwolves and the Lynx and that the move makes sense for the market.

Coleman said he was trying to end competition between the Xcel and Target Center for tax subsidies and concerts. "My primary concern is there not be additional taxpayer investment [in Target Center] because it just exacerbates the competition," he said.

His proposal would forgive a $32.5 million state loan to St. Paul for the Xcel construction while paying for $75 million in renovations. The drink tax also could buy Minneapolis out of the remaining $75 million debt on Target Center and save a proposed $150 million in renovations on the city-owned building.

Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson said that as much as the city wants the Vikings to stay, she called it "ridiculous'' to give up Target Center. "It provides us with events many, many times a year, many more than the Vikings playing at the Metrodome,'' she said. "We're a big enough metro to support two" arenas.

To entice residents and legislators from greater Minnesota, Coleman proposed spending a portion of the proceeds on recreation fields throughout the state. He would also impose a quarter-cent sales-tax increase in St. Paul to back bond sales and use the proceeds for libraries and parks.

Ramsey County Board Chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt and St. Paul City Council President Kathy Lantry both embraced the statewide fee. "I like the way he's thinking," Lantry said.

St. Paul City Council Member Lee Helgen said he wasn't fond of the Ramsey County sales tax increase, but is intrigued by Coleman's statewide proposal. "The mayor's trying to solve lots of problems all at once, which may be the way to get some traction on this," Helgen said.

Earlier this month, the Vikings and Ramsey County had proposed a half-cent sales tax increase to cover a $350 million contribution to an Arden Hills stadium. The deal included $407 million from the Vikings and a state contribution of $300 million. Still to be resolved in that plan was who would pay for $131 million in needed road improvements at and near the site.

No vote was taken in either a Senate or House committee on a Vikings stadium.

Bagley said the team is negotiating with the state on the Ramsey County deal and expects to be part of the mix when the GOP-controlled Legislature and the DFL governor reach a budget solution.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, chief Senate author of the Vikings bill, stopped short of taking a position on Coleman's proposal but said his idea and comments likely came too late.

"For the mayor of St. Paul to say he's not crazy about the [Arden Hills] site or the [countywide] tax, I think those are conversations that probably should have happened awhile ago," Rosen said before adding, "We're going to try to make [Arden Hills] work."

Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. raolson@startribune.com Twitter: @rochelleolson Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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