The belabored and sometimes befuddling eight-year campaign for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium took a major step forward Thursday at the State Capitol, and now only political shortsightedness can stand in the way of one of the largest public-private infrastructure investments in state history.
The TV cameras have been set up and reporters summoned for a number of stadium-related media events in recent years, but in every case key parties were noticeably absent.
Thursday's news conference finally brought together under one roof the governor and key decisionmakers from the Legislature, the Vikings, the city of Minneapolis, the building trades and the business community -- all endorsing one common-sense plan for a downtown stadium on the Metrodome site.
Despite the show of unity, it was a mostly somber affair. That's no doubt because several hurdles remain before team mascot Ragnar and the cheerleaders can gather for a groundbreaking.
The most significant challenges looming are votes by the Legislature and Minneapolis City Council. Support from those two bodies is far from guaranteed, even though, as Gov. Mark Dayton emphasized, no new taxes would be imposed to finance the proposed $975 million project and secure the Vikings franchise in Minnesota for 30 years.
If they missed its publication on these pages last month, reluctant City Council members should be sure to read an instructive commentary on stadium politics ("A plea to city leaders: Always look forward," Feb. 15) written by Lou DeMars and John Derus, former council members who faced similarly controversial votes on the Metrodome in 1973 and again in 1978.
DeMars and Derus and other council members ignored significant political risks and threw their support behind a downtown home for the Vikings and Twins that served this region well for three decades.
"The votes we took over 30 years ago led to a massive investment by the private sector in downtown jobs and economic development," DeMars and Derus wrote, urging the current council to make a similar investment in the city's future. Hennepin County stepped up as a local partner for the Twins in their pursuit of Target Field; now it's the City Council's turn to provide local leadership.
The city's stadium proposal, crafted by Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barb Johnson, would tap some of the existing sales and hospitality tax revenue now used for the Minneapolis Convention Center, while redirecting some of that revenue for economic development, including renovation and debt payment on the city-owned Target Center.
Council members are well aware that Target Center has become a black hole for city taxpayers. This plan offers a chance for much-needed property tax relief by covering the $5 million a year needed to pay off Target Center debt.
In addition, GOP legislators have reminded (some would say threatened) the city that the Convention Center taxes were authorized by the Legislature, and that the state could decide to end those taxes after the center's bonds are paid off in 2020.
In short, the city could be left with an empty Metrodome and without the Convention Center tax revenue unless the City Council makes the right choice for taxpayers and downtown.
(Disclosure: The stadium site plan outlined Thursday includes a block owned by the Star Tribune, and the value of other property owned by the newspaper near the Metrodome is likely to increase if the project is approved.)
The Legislature has a similarly clear choice to make: If lawmakers want to keep the Vikings in Minnesota -- and invest in the vitality of the state's largest economic hub -- they'll back the proposed expansion of charitable gaming through electronic pulltabs to fund the state's $398 million contribution and support the Minneapolis proposal on sales and hospitality taxes.
Apart from the long-term benefits of a stadium, this project has short-term appeal as well.
Minnesota's economy is rebounding, but state economist Tom Stinson reminded reporters this week that the construction sector is lagging. Building a new Vikings stadium would create 13,000 construction and service-sector jobs, paying $300 million in wages, over the next four years.
The project wouldn't be an elixir for the state's building trades, but it's the kind of strategic infrastructure investment that would ease the pain.
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