Minneapolis residents split on footing bill for Vikings stadium

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 6, 2012 - 8:26 AM

The prospect of helping to pay the Vikings bill draws yes - enthusiastic! - and no - emphatic! - answers.

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Patrons of a popular downtown bar and restaurant can see the Metrodome from windows along 5th Street S.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Jamal Hashi wants it, Kenny Herrman has doubts.

Season-ticket holder Phil Nelson prefers the well-worn Metrodome, but if a new stadium for the hometown Vikings must be built, he said, then Minneapolis voters should have a say in whether they pay.

"Majority rule, that's the right way to do it," said Nelson, 71, a longtime barber in south Minneapolis. "That's the American way, right?"

From Linden Hills to the tornado-battered blocks of the city's North Side, with a mix of anger, anticipation or a hint of resignation, Minneapolis residents are deep in debate and quite divided over whether the city should help pay for a $975 million downtown football stadium near the current Metrodome site.

Some, such as Hashi, a chef and restaurant owner at the Midtown Global Market, say they support city funding for a new stadium even if it means bypassing a voter referendum, a move advocated by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

"I side with Rybak on that one," said Hashi, 30, a Somali immigrant who grew up in Minneapolis watching the Vikings with his family and friends. "There is no down side to it for the city or the state. It's something that brings people together. It's fun, so why the hell not?"

Others, such as Herrman, an 88-year-old North Side resident, adamantly oppose a city subsidy for a team and a league raking in millions.

"They can pay their own way as far as I'm concerned," he said over coffee one morning last week at Emily's Family Restaurant in north Minneapolis.

Still others, such as Nelson, say they are stuck "in middle ground," but don't want to risk losing the team to another city.

"I suppose what it really comes down to is what is best for the city?" he said.

Talk heats up

What's best for the Vikings and the city has been a hot topic at the Capitol and City Hall for months. But the debate intensified last week after Gov. Mark Dayton announced that the state, the city and the Vikings had struck a tentative deal for a $975 million stadium at the Metrodome site that could open as early as the 2016 season.

Terms call for the city to pay $150 million up front in construction costs. The state would pay $398 million and the Vikings would contribute $427 million. The city also would finance about $188 million in operating costs over the next 30 years.

The legislative hurdles are formidable, and approval is no certainty. Yet the key to the deal might well rest with the city and, possibly, its voters.

So far, seven of the 13 City Council members are on record opposing city funding without taking the issue to voters.

But Rybak has argued that, since the city money would come from state-authorized taxes, the deal could be approved without triggering a city charter provision requiring the city to hold a referendum on any sports facility costing it more than $10 million. Five years ago, Hennepin County won legislative approval to bypass a countywide vote on public subsidies for Target Field, the new home for the Minnesota Twins.

Some council members have said that without a citywide vote, the stadium deal could wind up in court. With it, Nelson and others say, it could well go down to defeat.

Council President Barb Johnson, who supports the project, said she and Rybak are working to win over a majority of council members to show legislators that Minneapolis supports the project.

"The state wants a sense of where we're at," heading into the legislative debate, she said.

Constituents, meanwhile, are speaking out online, at coffee shops and in pubs and barbershops across the city.

Johnson said she's received dozens of calls and e-mails on the issue in recent weeks, many in support of the stadium.

Council Member Don Samuels, who also favors the deal, said most of what he hears from outside the city is "supportive." But within the city, he said, reactions are "mixed."

As Herrman and several morning regulars groused about the deal over coffee at Emily's last week, Linda Kinde, a Northeast resident, first-grade teacher and diehard Dallas Cowboys fan, gushed over the prospect of a sparkling new downtown stadium.

Kinde, 60, said she'd rather see the cost of the project spread evenly across the state, but added that since "the city is going to get more of the benefits of it, I think it's OK."

DeAndre Horton, a Camden neighborhood resident and Vikings fan who stopped for breakfast, agreed.

"It's what they need to do to keep the team here," said Horton, 38.

'Losing proposition'

Several miles away, near Nicollet Island, Victor Grambsch, president of the local neighborhood association, expressed doubts.

"I see no economic benefit with the city for having a stadium," said Grambsch, 64. "To me, it's a losing proposition. And it's also clear the Vikings aren't going anywhere. It's extortion, and I don't think we should put up with it."

Across town, Linden Hills neighbors gathered at the home of Joan and Don Hawkinson on a recent night to talk about the stadium issue with Betsy Hodges, their council member.

"Why would Minneapolis pony up that kind of money when we have so many needs?" Joan Hawkinson asked. "If we do, it should be with the caveat that we get a lot of out of it. That our schools get something, that the North Side gets something, that our kids get something.

"I don't want the city of Minneapolis ponying up that kind of money and not get something. Let's get something out of it."

At Nelson's barbershop at 54th and Nicollet, opinions were divided, too.

Ken Heidelberg, 83, a retired chemical engineer, said it would be preferable to have "elected representatives make the decision" on a stadium, rather than voters. "It gets so ... complicated that the voters often don't know what's going on," he added. "Either they don't look at it enough or they don't understand it."

But Matt Kane, 52, who lives nearby, said the $338 million the city would commit over 30 years "is a lot of bucks. So making that call and dedicating that money to a stadium is a tough one."

Kane added that he is "ambivalent" about a referendum, saying "I don't like to see them do an end run around it, but I'm also not a big fan of government by referendum."

Nelson, a lifelong city resident, is conflicted. As a season ticket holder and longtime fan, he doesn't want the Vikings to skip town. But he also doesn't think the team needs a new home.

"You're talking to a frugal guy here," he said between haircuts. "The owners and the players they can buy their own stadium with the money they make."

Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425

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