Vikings stadium plan gains a roof, and some traction

GOP plan relies on bonding, not gambling, for state's share. Dayton says idea is "worth pursuing."

The roof was off. Now it's back on. The pricetag for taxpayers is still unknown. What's clear is that an 11th-hour GOP proposal for a less expensive Vikings stadium that would rely on borrowing instead of gambling is gaining steam.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who called it a "hare-brained scheme" Wednesday morning, by day's end said it was a plan "absolutely worth pursuing," as high-level talks among DFLers, Republicans, the team and others unfolded.

"We hope this is fruitful," said House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, after formally presenting the idea to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. "We're trying to find a solution that the Legislature can agree to."

Two days after the Legislature had hoped to adjourn, a handful of leaders are racing to piece together a new, end-of-session stadium proposal that ditches the much-criticized expansion of charitable gambling for traditional bonding.

Dean and others say a new plan is needed because they cannot get the votes for the proposal Dayton, the Vikings and key Republican legislators crafted over the past several months.

The plan calls for borrowing at least $250 million as part of the state's overall bonding bill. That does not include the funding needed for a roof, which Dean said has yet to be determined. The city of Minneapolis would still contribute $150 million for construction costs and the team's share would remain $427 million.

Dean said using taxpayer-backed bonds are a far more stable funding source than the existing proposal, which relies on an untested expansion of charitable gambling. He also acknowledged, one day after proposing a roof-less stadium, that a roof would likely be required to qualify for general obligation bonds. The lack of a roof would severely limit the facility's ability to host civic and other events year-round.

Should the new proposal fail to catch fire, Dean said, the drive for a new stadium could be dead for this session.

"If it's not productive and it's not helpful, then we can move on to other solutions to try to get done to get out" and adjourn this year's legislative session, he said.

The new plan poses an enormous political challenge for Republicans. Unlike the earlier plan, which would have needed only a simple majority, the bonding bill by law requires a supermajority. That means Republicans will need a significant number of votes from the DFL.

DFLers are skeptical

DFLers were cool to the GOP proposal on Wednesday.

"The bottom line is there's no there, there," said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, who earlier said he had all his votes lined up for Dayton's plan.

"The idea that we are going to obligate the state to pay for this really runs counter from what I'm hearing from constituents," said Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul. "They are not in favor of using public dollars to subsidize it."

Even labor unions, huge backers of the governor's plan, appeared doubtful the new proposal could succeed.

"I would be surprised if that works," said Minnesota AFL-CIO president Shar Knutson. "So far, we've only seen one plan that meets that -- that has the team, the city, the GOP authors and has been vetted through a number of [legislative] committees."

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who on Tuesday stood by Dayton's side at a news conference and said his city would not be partner to a roof-less stadium, was more conciliatory on Wednesday after emerging from a late-day meeting with Republicans.

He said he'd been assured by GOP leaders that the city's stadium contribution and its complicated financing proposal would not be altered.

But Rybak said that any new stadium proposal should contain the "backbone" of the proposal Dayton and others had worked on for months. "If there are ways to amendment it, [that may work] as long as they don't change what we need, what we laid out at the beginning," Rybak said.

That appeared to be the Vikings' bottom line as well, according to team spokesman Lester Bagley.

"We reaffirmed today in a meeting with House and Senate Republican leadership that the Vikings are committed to the deal we negotiated with state and local leaders -- $427 million upfront and $13 million in annual operating costs,'' Bagley said Wednesday. "We will not support any proposal that would require the team to contribute any more than that.''

It remains far from certain whether Republicans, many of whom campaigned strongly against "running up the state's credit card," can build the broad coalition needed for the new, GOP-led proposal.

"I don't like it, but it is more acceptable," said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, a vocal stadium critic.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said that relying on state general obligation bonds is a more fiscally sound way to finance the stadium. He said Dayton's proposal was "structurally flawed." Republicans, including House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, originally had opposed bonding.

Republican leaders acknowledged Tuesday that they had been meeting secretly for several days to assemble the plan and discuss it with the Vikings -- all without notifying Dayton. The governor's office has been in constant contact with the Vikings, Minneapolis officials and legislators in recent days to hold the coalition together and get the original agreement approved. That prompted heavy criticism from Dayton earlier in the day

"When you say you're negotiating -- you're negotiating," he said. "You're not plotting something behind people's backs."

By late afternoon he had softened his tone. "I don't recant anything I said before. I meant every word of it. But ... I'm not going to let my personal feelings for how other people conduct themselves get in the way of trying to get a resolution that's going to be beneficial to Minnesota."

The plan still has to be vetted by experts, consultants, the DFLers and the Vikings, he said, "So there's a long way to go with this and not much time."

Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044

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