The chances of a new Minnesota Vikings stadium being approved at the state Capitol this year turned Monday not on legislators, but on two Minneapolis City Council members sitting 11 miles away.
Gov. Mark Dayton met privately with council members Kevin Reich and Sandra Colvin Roy in an attempt to sway them and build a pro-stadium majority on the 13-person council, which has been split over the project.
After the meeting, the two council members ducked from explaining where they stood on the proposed $975 million stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
Although Reich and Colvin Roy have tentatively opposed a city subsidy package for the stadium -- particularly if there is no city referendum first -- the meeting showed the kind of political pressure they face to change their minds.
"I don't know that either of them have taken a firm position," the governor said afterward. "We didn't get any final commitments, but we didn't ask for any final commitments.
"I think what the Legislature is looking for is a letter that's clear that at least a majority of the members of the Minneapolis City Council support the project."
With the stadium plan stalled at the state Capitol and Republican leaders intent on adjourning in just over a month, time to change minds on the City Council is waning.
In another day of stadium politics, Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, chief Senate stadium legislation author, could be seen shuttling into the governor's office.
"For folks both for and against it, it's hard for them to decide if the city that's going to host the stadium hasn't spoken yet," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers on Monday after leaving the governor's office. Zellers, who has been vague on how much he would do to help pass a stadium bill, said he met with Dayton to discuss overall legislative issues, and said the session was not focused on the stadium.
Time gets short
Though the stadium plan faces other significant political hurdles, Rosen agreed the City Council now holds a key to the project's overall chances. "We've made that very clear, that we need to have their support and we need to have that real soon," she said.
Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, chairman of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, which would give the stadium plan its first House hearing, added that it was a "natural assumption" that City Council support for the stadium would yield more votes at the state Capitol.
The stadium project would be built at the site of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, where the team has played since the early 1980s. Under the current agreement, the Vikings would put in $427 million, while the state would contribute $398 million. Minneapolis would pay $150 million in construction costs. Additionally, the team would pay $327 million in ongoing operational costs, while the city would offer another $189 million.
In Minneapolis, even stadium supporters were quiet Monday about what might happen with the City Council.
"I'm not going to talk," said City Council President Barb Johnson as she left a private Minneapolis Downtown Council meeting where the stadium plan was discussed. Johnson also attended Monday's meeting between Dayton and the two City Council members.
"We're just going to pass on the opportunity to comment," said John Stiles, a spokesman for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. "We're just going to let it lie right now."
City Council Member Gary Schiff, along with several other city officials, said he had not heard what happened at the meeting between Reich, Colvin Roy and Dayton. But Schiff, an opponent of the project, said he wants the governor to seek out council members like him, "so we may weigh in on behalf of our constituents and may shape a deal that is acceptable."
City charter an issue
Reich, who represents northeast Minneapolis, said a month ago that he was inclined to oppose the stadium subsidy package unless there was a referendum, as required by the city's charter when spending more than $10 million on a sports facility.
"If we're called upon to spend more than $10 million, we have a provision in our charter that states what procedures we have to do," Reich said at the time. "I'm bound by those."
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673