Gov. Mark Dayton's sudden push for a Minnesota Vikings stadium at Minneapolis' Metrodome site drew some positive reaction as legislators opened the 2012 session Tuesday but also hit a potential roadblock.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House stadium author, said it would be difficult to win enough votes for a Vikings stadium package that also included a plan to provide financial relief to Minneapolis' Target Center. In response, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak reiterated that he and the City Council would back a stadium plan only if there were monetary help for Target Center to pay down its debt and help with remodeling.
"He may believe it's more difficult at the Legislature; it would be impossible without it at City Hall," Rybak said.
At the same time, House Speaker Kurt Zellers gave his most optimistic assessment yet on a stadium.
"When you look at where we've come, even in the last six weeks -- let alone six months, or a year -- we've actually now kind of gotten down to a point where we're site-specific," said Zellers, R-Maple Grove.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the Senate's chief stadium author, voiced stronger optimism. "I do believe that's where it is going to be," Rosen said of a Metrodome location. She also said she was "absolutely certain I am going to get this thing passed" this year in the Senate.
"I say run a plan up that puts it at the Metrodome site," said Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, as the Legislature convened for its three-month session. "If the owners are OK with it, then I say go for it."
Dayton prepared to meet Wednesday with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, whom the governor said was "disappointed and frustrated" when Dayton told him Monday that the team would have to agree to build at the Metrodome for a new-stadium proposal to pass the Legislature this year.
Wilf and his brother, Mark, attended Tuesday night's Minnesota Chamber of Commerce dinner, but neither addressed the crowd. Mark Wilf did speak with reporters about the Wednesday meeting with Dayton, saying, "We are going to work through with the governor and the legislative leaders and see what is on the table tomorrow and try to get a resolution to this thing."
Dayton detailed Tuesday why he abruptly shifted the stadium debate to the Metrodome, saying he felt that despite its limitations the Metrodome could be a "very, very attractive site."
Only last week, the governor had labeled the Metrodome a "default" site for a new stadium, and said a Minneapolis proposal for the project was "meager."
Dayton shifted the debate after he said he determined that an analysis of the site near the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis could not be completed in time for legislators to consider it this year.
There were no clear signs where the up-and-down stadium haggling would land next.
No bill has been introduced yet, and Zellers indicated that a measure would not be brought to a House vote unless there were assurances it had the backing to be approved. Zellers said he and stadium supporters were wary of what happened in the late 1990s, when a proposal to build a new Minnesota Twins stadium failed at the Legislature, derailing for years the team's attempt at getting public subsidies for a new stadium.
Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, said he and other legislators worried that combining a new Vikings stadium with financial relief for Target Center would be providing public subsidies to two wealthy team executives -- Wilf and Glen Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who play at Target Center.
"I don't have a whole lot of empathy here," said Mahoney.
Lanning wasted little time Tuesday in challenging Dayton's attempt to focus the stadium debate on the Metrodome, where the team has played for 30 years. "For those who think that everything has shifted now -- Metrodome is it, that's finished, it's a done deal -- that's not where I'm at," said Lanning, who said the Metrodome location continues to have drawbacks. "There are those who have already walked away from Arden Hills -- I have not done so."
The Vikings have since last year said that the team preferred a $1.1 billion stadium at Ramsey County's Arden Hills site.
The latest stadium debate took place Tuesday at the State Capitol as an "Occupy the Capitol" rally was held to protest tax breaks for the wealthy. "If for every time [a new stadium] is not being used for a football game it's a homeless shelter, [then] I might go for it," said Mickey Patterson of Minneapolis, a protester.
Staff writers Eric Roper and Baird Helgeson contributed to this report.
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673