Republicans throw a big curve with 'roof-ready’ stadium plan

"Roof-ready'' proposal catches Dayton, some Republicans off-guard.

A Republican plan for a cheaper, roofless Minnesota Vikings stadium took DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Democrats by surprise Tuesday, leading to another dramatic breakdown in talks.

The proposal, which also lacks the support of the Vikings, would rely on about $200 million in long-term borrowing to pay the state's share, with the cost of a roof negotiated in later sessions.

At a hastily called news conference, Dayton decried the plan as a political "gimmick" that "destroys the People's Stadium" that could be used year-round for concerts and other events.

The Vikings quickly announced their opposition, too, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the city would not be a partner in the new plan.

Flanked by DFL legislative leaders and Rybak, Dayton accused Republicans of going behind his back to secretly negotiate with the Vikings, noting that they withheld information from his administration about the plan even as they all met to cut a session-ending deal on tax breaks, bonding and the stadium.

"It's cynical, underhanded politics," Dayton said.

Hours after the plan was first reported in the Star Tribune, Republican leaders emerged to defend the proposal.

"I'm surprised that there's been such an overreaction from the governor," said Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, a critic of Dayton's stadium plan and the chair of the influential Senate Taxes Committee. "It's a pretty straightforward way to do it."

For days, GOP legislators had been quietly hatching the proposal, which would dramatically shrink the state's financial stake.

Under the emerging proposal, about $200 million in stadium infrastructure costs would get lumped in with a larger state bonding bill that would pay for repair of roads, bridges and buildings, including restoration of the Capitol. Republican leaders said the details would be worked out in coming days.

Zellers: 'A good idea'

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who has not publicly embraced the earlier stadium proposal, said he could get behind the new plan if it gains traction among members.

"I do think this is a good idea" because many Republican legislators support it, said Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

Dayton and legislators on both sides have been scrambling to put together a proposal for a nearly $1 billion stadium on the Metrodome site. That plan includes $427 million from the team, $150 million from the city of Minneapolis and $398 million from the state, paid through an expansion of charitable gambling.

Ortman, Zellers and House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, presented the new proposal without the stadium bill sponsors, who have toiled for months to work out an agreement with the team, Dayton's administration and Minneapolis officials.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House stadium author, said he heard of the new stadium proposal only on Tuesday morning.

"There hasn't been any agreement to any new idea at this point," said Lanning.

Of the new GOP plan, he said: "I want a roof. I've always wanted a roof." 

"It's a thought," said Senate stadium bill sponsor Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, who also first heard the idea Tuesday morning. "It hasn't been properly vetted through all the channels, but it's worth taking a look at."

The new proposal has some elements that could make it more politically palatable. It would not rely on expanded gambling to pay the state's share. Many Republicans and Democrats have opposed new gambling and harbor strong doubts that an expansion of electronic pull-tabs and sports-themed tip boards would bring in enough money to pay the state's share.

The proposal could inflate the size of the bonding bill, which might appeal to Democrats pushing for state-backed construction projects as part of their jobs agenda.

The debt would, however, be repaid with general tax dollars. As recently as mid-April, Zellers said relying on general fund dollars for stadium costs was "a huge problem," and requested backup funding plans that would eliminate that prospect.

A roofless stadium also would have limited prospects for hosting amateur sports and special events year-round -- a key point for Dayton in backing what he calls a "People's Stadium." The Vikings, he has pointed out repeatedly, would play as few as 10 games a year in the facility. The roofed Metrodome is used all year by a variety of groups.

Rybak: 'A dead deal'

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley has testified at the Capitol that a roofed stadium would allow Minnesota to compete for a Super Bowl and the Final Four.

Dean said a "roof-ready" stadium could have a top added at any time. How the roof is paid for could be worked out at a later time, he said.

The state and the Vikings could split the savings of a roofless stadium. But Minneapolis would gain nothing from the modification.

Rybak said Minneapolis will yank its support if the new plan is approved. "That's a dead deal, because this partner is not going to be part of that," Rybak said.

The Vikings, who have spent months negotiating with the governor's office, were cool to the new plan, which dribbled out the day after legislators had hoped to adjourn for the year. "It's not a proposal that we support," Bagley said.

National Football League spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league would defer to the team on the roof issue.

"It's a club matter," McCarthy said Tuesday.

Dayton and some legislative leaders called the new plan an attempt by Republicans to redirect blame to Democrats if a stadium bill doesn't pass this year.

"Anyone offering a plan where there's no local partner, no roof [and] no discussion with the governor, the team, the league or the other caucus isn't trying to build the stadium," said Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, a strong supporter of Dayton's stadium plan.

Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044

THE PLAN

$1 billion roofed stadium at Metrodome site would get $427 million from Vikings, $150 million from Minneapolis, $398 million from state (charitable gambling).

THE TWIST

Eliminate the roof and fund the state's reduced, $200 million share of costs via a bonding bill that also would pay for road, bridge and building repair, including the Capitol.

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