Marathon hearing tackles thorniest Vikings stadium issuesby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The movement to build a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings gained a little ground Tuesday at the Capitol. In the second of two Senate hearings, a marathon six-hour session, lawmakers tackled some of the thorniest challenges they face in the debate, and some new players even joined the contest.
Dozens of interested parties, including the mayor of Minneapolis, spoke their piece.
"The fact that we're trying to bring everyone to the table, and come with one proposal, and a proposal very, very soon, too, is quite telling," said state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont.
Rosen presented the first stadium bill to the Senate back in April. She hopes to bring forward a site-specific plan, with money to pay for it.
Rosen said she would like to see the deal settled before the Legislature returns for its regular session at the end of January.
"The time is now. People are tired of hearing about this issue and its important to get something on the table and get a vote," Rosen said.
Just what might be on the table became more clear during the discussion.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the city wants to keep the Vikings at the site of the existing Metrodome.
"With all the discussion that has taken place in this room about how difficult it is to fund a stadium, we think it is very important at an option that is proven, at a cost of $215 million less for the state of Minnesota," Rybak said. "Those are real dollars and it matters. It's also a site that we believe has demonstrated itself as able to handle these crowds, and significant infrastructure.
Rybak has said that before, back in May. But in this hearing, he also put some money on the table, offering a half-cent citywide sales tax, and a cut of existing restaurant, liquor and hotel taxes that pay convention center bonds.
"The plan involves using the existing revenue that is dedicated to the Minneapolis convention center funding and marketing," Rybak said. That could raise between $4 million and $11 million each year, said Ted Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.
"It starts lower and goes higher because of the convention center bonds. It's not finished out," Mondale said. "But the total value is about $300 million in cash. And so the present value of that money is about $200 million.
At $200 million, it's only about half of what Ramsey County initially offered to contribute to the $1.1 billion stadium the county and the Vikings proposed in Arden Hills.
But state officials this fall struck down that plan, which called for raising county sales taxes by a half-percent. Ramsey County finance director Lee Mehrkens asked lawmakers for a do-over.
"Those same kind of revenues could be achieved on the Ramsey County side, just like they are on the west side of the river," Mehrkens said. "(It) could raise up to $25 million a year with food and beverage taxes, with hospitality, hotel-motel taxes, not unlike what Minneapolis has."
But Republicans, including Senate tax committee chair Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, oppose adding a sales tax. Rosen made clear that wasn't going to happen.
"And if Ramsey County can come up with some other option that is not a local sales tax, or a tax of any kind, then they better bring it."
There were some suggestions offered up. The White Earth band of Ojibwe offered to build a casino beside an Arden Hills stadium and split $300 million in annual revenue with the state. Racino, downtown casino and electronic pull tab backers also made pitches to lawmakers.
Lawmakers during the hearing didn't directly address any of the proposals involving gambling. But they made clear that the stadium clock is quickly ticking down.
- Morning Edition, 12/07/2011, 6:50 a.m.