Coleman proposes statewide drink tax to solve stadium issuesby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio,
Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on Wednesday proposed one of the biggest trades in sports history.
Coleman said the state should reject the agreement signed between the Minnesota Vikings and Ramsey County officials that would located a new Vikings stadium in Arden Hills. Instead, he suggested Minneapolis should keep the Vikings, while St. Paul would get the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA team to play at the Xcel Energy Center.
He proposed using a 2-cent-a-drink statewide liquor tax and a quarter-cent sales tax increase in St. Paul to raise $550 million for a new Vikings stadium to be built on the Metrodome site in Minneapolis, in addition to other projects.
"It is time to move beyond stadium plans with benefits or burdens to only a small part of this state, and explore options which benefit all of Minnesota," Coleman said Wednesday in a news release. "Whether in Mankato, Minnetonka or Mountain Iron, Vikings fans are eating wings and drinking beer while watching their favorite team. Such a statewide asset deserves a statewide commitment."
Coleman also suggested that Minneapolis redevelop the site of the Target Center -- in other words, tear it down -- to spare Minneapolis property taxpayers the cost of paying its debt.
"When you already have a state-of-the-art facility in the region [and] when you don't need two facilities, why would we go to the drawing board and ... invest another $150 million of taxpayer dollars to achieve that goal?" Coleman asked. "The only answer to that question is that it's in downtown Minneapolis and we should concentrate all of our efforts there. I don't think that's the right question from a regional perspective."
It's the most radical solution to the Vikings stadium debate proposed to date. It builds on a proposal by the city of Minneapolis for a new stadium at the Metrodome site and a complete makeover for the city-owned Target Center.
The St. Paul plan would pay off the Target Center's $75 million debt, raise another $75 million for improvements at the Xcel Center, fund a new $50 million ballpark for the St. Paul Saints and contribute $5 million a year to an amateur sports fund for greater Minnesota. A quarter-cent St. Paul sales tax would be directed to St. Paul parks and libraries.
Most of the major players in the stadium discussion are reacting coolly to the plan.
"We've been very clear," said the Vikings' Lester Bagley. "We have a local partner. We have a great site, and we're in the process of discussing and negotiating legislation at the Capitol. We're going to Arden Hills."
Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega was similarly apprehensive about Coleman's plan.
"I understand where they're coming from, but quite frankly, they must understand that we're looking at the welfare of the county and the east metro area," he said.
Ortega said a Vikings stadium at the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills might be the last chance to develop the site, which is the largest Superfund site in the state.
"This is 500 acres of polluted land in a fully developed county," Ortega said. "It's going to be crucial. It will not be developed in the next 50 to 60 years if we don't take some type of action now."
Minneapolis Mayor R.T Rybak and the Minnesota Timberwolves didn't wait long to dismiss the idea.
"After a decade of investing tax dollars in a civic building and important economic engine, it would be a mistake to close the Target Center and move the Timberwolves," Rybak said. "The sensible solution is to renovate the Target Center."
Craig Leipold, the owner of the Minnesota Wild NHL team that plays at the Xcel Energy Center, said his team supports Coleman's "global solution" addressing all the state's professional sports facilities. He said sharing arrangements are common across the country, and said he would be happy to discuss the proposal if the Timberwolves were interested.
It isn't clear what support the plan would have outside of downtown St. Paul.
State Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said legislators have made clear their opposition to tax increases -- whether to balance the budget or pay for a stadium.
"One of the things that the proponents of the stadium would say is that they're only interested in taxes and user fees that would be paid by those that plan to take advantage of a stadium," Thompson said. "This clearly violates their principle. Because a person who is not a Vikings fan having a beer in Duluth -- that's not a user fee for a stadium. So once again, that's simply a tax."
St. Paul officials said they were equally concerned about the Arden Hills plan proposed by Ramsey County, because it's the largest city in that county.
City Council President Kathy Lantry said she doesn't know all the details of the county's plan. But she supported a formal resolution opposing a Twins stadium in St. Paul in 2004, and said it the council could do the same with the Vikings deal.
"We might. Again, we've been waiting for the financials. On balance, the idea of having St. Paul taxpayers pay for 50 percent of a stadium that's going to be in Arden Hills, with no way to get there, doesn't make sense to me."
The Vikings are still hoping to work out the details on a stadium plan to have a deal ready when Gov. Mark Dayton calls the Legislature back to St. Paul for a special session.
(MPR Reporter Elizabeth Dunbar and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)
- All Things Considered, 05/25/2011, 5:24 p.m.
Elizabeth Dunbar is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.