Minneapolis gets another shot at holding onto Vikingsby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The City of Minneapolis will be back at the Capitol today, trying to hang on to its NFL team, even as the Vikings say they're ready to pack their bags and move out to the suburbs.
City and team officials met Monday for more than an hour at the Minneapolis Club, after a legislative admonition to pare the city's stadium plans from three sites to one. Mayor R.T. Rybak told state Senators last week that the current Metrodome site, the site of the downtown Farmer's Market and a site near the Basilica would all make good homes for the Vikings.
Rybak spokesman John Stiles confirmed the meeting, but wouldn't offer any details on the talks.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said that the team heard out Minneapolis officials, who told the team that the city wants a rebuild of the Metrodome. Bagley said the city was free to do so, but that the team didn't agree to the plan in Monday's meeting.
"There are problems with all three sites," Bagley said.
The Vikings rejected the Metrodome rebuild back in May, when Rybak and city council president Barb Johnson first rolled out their plan. The Vikings said they couldn't afford to play elsewhere for at least two seasons while the Metrodome was rebuilt. They also say the venue, at about 1 million square feet, is a third smaller than comparable stadiums elsewhere.
But Minneapolis won't be the only stadium plan under close scrutiny today. Senate tax committee chair Julianne Ortman, R-Maple Grove, told Ramsey County officials she wanted to hear how they could come up with a $350 million local contribution, even though state officials have effectively ruled out a half-percent sales tax increase proposed by the county.
County commissioner Tony Bennett says that the county is looking at alternatives to the sales tax, possibly including hotel or liquor taxes. "We could come up with about half," he said of the county's original offer. "But anything we do has to get approval of the Legislature, anyway."
Ostensibly, today's hearing isn't meant to sort out the rivalry between would-be hosts of the Vikings. Lawmakers had scheduled a discussion of financing options for this second hearing, and they're likely to get plenty of ideas for and opposition to stadium funding plans.
Gambling proponents have been clamoring the loudest to get in to the stadium funding plan. Supporters of casino games at Canterbury Park and Running Aces, the state's two horse tracks, even went so far as to send a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton, signed by 24 legislators, supporting the idea. Minneapolis developer Bob Lux may be back pitching his Block E casino plan and the state's bars say they've already won preliminary approval in several legislative hearings to permit an electronic version of existing charitable gambling.
There may be a new twist today, as well. Officials wtih the White Earth band of Ojibwe said Monday that tribal chairman Erma Vizenor was on her way to St. Paul and planned to testify at today's Senate hearing. Hers was one of three tribes that talked with Gov. Tim Pawlenty about partnering with the state on a Metro-area casino in 2004. That idea failed.
A band spokesman declined to detail Vizenor's plans today, but confirmed she planned to address stadium funding and her tribe.
Other testimony is likely to include discussion of a plan floated by Republicans in the Legislature to divert money from arts and cultural programs paid for with the state's ⅜ cent Legacy sales tax. Opponents of that idea were already lined up outside last week's hearing, and may be back in force today.
The hearing is set to start at 12:30 p.m., in Room 15 of the Capitol. Testimony is scheduled until 6 p.m., and the public is invited to weigh in on the stadium funding plans.