Mpls. council majority slows down Dome plan with call for vote

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 27, 2012 - 8:10 AM

Absent a referendum, seven on the Minneapolis City Council are opposed to the plan. A key legislator joined them.

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From left, Minneapolis City Council Members Gary Schiff, Robert Lilligren and Elizabeth Glidden, all stadium opponents, listened to Mayor R.T. Rybak’s pitch.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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City Council insistence that public funding for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium must go before Minneapolis voters put the brakes on Mayor R.T. Rybak's plan for the Metrodome site Thursday.

Sandra Colvin Roy, whose stance on the mayor's stadium plan was previously unknown, became the seventh member of the 13-member council standing against the proposal absent a citywide referendum. That vote is required under the city's charter if the city spends more than $10 million on a stadium, but the mayor and council President Barb Johnson would like the Legislature to override it.

"Looking across the street at Occupy Minnesota and thinking about what's going on in our country right now, some of the discussions that are happening relative to government -- can we trust them or not? -- I cannot countenance going around that referendum," Colvin Roy said Thursday during a hearing.

Also Thursday, the chair of the first House committee that likely would handle the Vikings stadium plan said she would oppose any attempt to waive a referendum requirement.

"I'd like to see a referendum if it involves taxpayer money, which it undoubtedly will," said Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, who chairs the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.

Going into Thursday's Minneapolis City Council hearing, putting a new Vikings stadium on the Metrodome site with $300 million in city sales tax revenue had gained momentum at the State Capitol and with the team's owners.

The majority council opposition is a major blow to the mayor's plan, though he maintains he can muster the seven votes to pass it. "It's not going to be a slam dunk here or at the Capitol or anywhere else, but we can see a way to get there," Rybak said.

"We're not going to do a referendum in the city," the mayor said. "We are going to have a referendum in a couple years when I stand for re-election."

But Colvin Roy noted that the charter amendment, which passed overwhelmingly on the 1997 ballot, expressed the "will of the people" to have a say in stadium decisions. She also said state taxpayers should bear more of the burden for what will be a statewide asset. "It's a very tough position to be in on this council, the seventh vote," Colvin Roy said in an interview. "For anything, whether it's for or against."

Two views of what won't pass

Much of the hearing was consumed by Rybak and Johnson defending their plan to funnel more than $300 million in existing taxes to a new stadium. Several members of the council, such as Cam Gordon, echoed Colvin Roy's call for a referendum. "We need to get something that the citizens and the residents believe in and have faith in," Gordon said.

Johnson, who wants the Legislature to override the requirement, said the stadium deal is doomed otherwise. "I think if you're thinking that putting it on the ballot is going to give us some voter authority, it won't pass," Johnson said. "And we will all spend time and money in an unnecessary fruitless effort. I'm a realist."

Council Member Betsy Hodges said that's an important sign. "The reason that a referendum wouldn't pass is because people don't want it," Hodges said.

Minus the referendum hurdle and broader opposition to sports subsidies, council members expressed some support for the plan's broader goals to lower Minneapolis property taxes.

Specifically, the proposal would alleviate the city's growing obligation to Target Center by using existing sales taxes to improve the facility and pay down its debt. Those sales taxes currently prop up the city's convention center, which would continue to be funded.

Based on city projections, that could yield about $5 million a year in property tax relief over the next decade -- a figure that grows larger in later years. The city's annual obligations to the Target Center are expected to surpass $10 million in 2022.

Ramsey plan unchanged

Despite a new deadline from a legislative stadium sponsor, Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett said he doesn't expect the county will have a new financing plan for a stadium site by Friday's deadline. The county has submitted two financing proposals, but both were rejected by legislators. The first would have levied a half-cent sales tax increase countywide. The second would have added a new 3 percent food and beverage tax.

The county has proposed paying $375 million toward a new stadium at a former munitions site in Arden Hills. The Vikings have called it their preferred site.

Neither the county nor the Vikings has been willing discuss what the third financing option may be. A key architect of the county's proposals is on vacation until next week, Bennett said.

Staff writers Rochelle Olson and Mike Kaszuba contributed to this report. Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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