Minneapolis mayor offers Vikings three stadium sites, sales tax hike to pay for it

Was it only last weekend that Minneapolis newspaper columnists were griping about how their city wasn’t leaping into the Minnesota Vikings stadium race? Well, gripe no longer: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak yesterday offered three, count ’em three, possible sites for a Vikings stadium in his city, and said he’d help pay for it with a citywide sales tax and possibly proceeds from a downtown casino.

In May, Minneapolis officials rolled out an $895 million plan to transform the Metrodome into a bigger facility. Rybak and Johnson said that’s still their preferred option, but they also support the Farmers Market site favored by several business groups and the Xcel Energy site near the Basilica of St. Mary.

Vikings stadium chief Lester Bagley issued a stadium saying thanks but no thanks, the team is focused on the Arden Hills site in Ramsey County. What looks like is going on here is that Rybak is positioning himself to be ready to jump in should the Arden Hills plan fall apart, as it looks to have a fair chance of doing, given the questions about its price tag and possibility of a voter referendum to block it and just the general uncertainty of ever getting a stadium bill through the Minnesota legislature.

The problem, of course, is that Minneapolis is still barred from spending more than $10 million on a stadium by that long-ago referendum vote (so long ago that it predates this website) that installed a stadium spending cap in the city charter. Rybak could ask the state legislature to override his city charter and approve a sales tax hike anyway, but that would be a tougher sell than a straight stadium subsidy deal. There’s also the possibility of going through Hennepin County, as the Twins did for their stadium, though at last report the county was still saying it couldn’t afford to go in on a new Vikings home.

In any case, though, Vikings execs have to be absolutely thrilled to have a bidding war going on, even if the various bids aren’t all that strong. Minneapolis may only be a fallback option for now, but that’s one more option than they had yesterday.

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7 comments on “Minneapolis mayor offers Vikings three stadium sites, sales tax hike to pay for it

  1. Yep, it’s even sadder to watch this from the front row. Politicians falling all over themselves and out state MN all ready to vote that someone else pay for a stadium. What’s even sadder is that Minneapolis sales tax for restaurants will be 15% or more and we’ll have a casino in downtown Minnneapolis. Let’s just give up and rename the town to Detroit, MN.

  2. The Vikings say they’re committed to Arden Hills, but if the plan does switch to Minneapolis, it will be interesting to see whether they can legally do what Rybak claims. Unlike the sales tax referendum requirement that was waived by the state for Hennepin County in 2006 (and I still question whether a legal challenge might not have had an impact), the charter provision is very explicit, and should the state try to override it, the voters would have the right under the state constitution to essentially reaffirm the amendment that passed in 1997. At the very least, it greatly increases the likelihood that there will be a legal challenge if the state tries to bypass local law in either Minneapolis or Ramsey County. And would the Hennepin County Commissioners have the gall to stick it to county taxpayers a second time? Boy, that would take real arrogance.

  3. Even though I’m against it, a voter-approved sales tax hike really is the best way to pay for these things. And don’t get me wrong — given the chance to vote for or against a sales tax to pay for a sports venue, I’d almost always vote against one.

    When they start doing things like giving away land, or selling pieces of land, or taxing rental cars and hotel rooms, or relying solely on arena revenues to pay off bonds, or selling or leasing parking facilities, or land swaps, or trying to use federal transportation dollars to pay for one wall… That’s when I ask, “Hmm, how about a 1/4 cent sales tax hike instead?”.

    Of course, that’d never happen, because the voters always reject those. So, fine, let’s do it in a way that’ll never add up instead. As long as we don’t have to ask the voters, that’s the best approach. We’ll get back to ’em later, when the City faces bankruptcy, and the choice is either go into bankruptcy or pass some “small” tax hike.

  4. Of course, there is another option here: No sales tax, no tax on car rentals, no land swaps, no tax on hotels. You are presuming that the only way to get these deals done is if the government somehow provides a subsidy. How about if the Vikings either spend their money to refurb the Dome, or use their money to put together a deal where they get to sell naming rights, in-stadium rights, etc. There seems to be this notion that we must capitulate to owners if we want to keep pro sports in our town, and perhaps that’s so. But to date, no government official has ever bothered to really negotiate a deal as if the public was the party to the transaction. Instead, it’s simply how much does the team want and then figuring out how to fleece the public for that amount. Quite frankly, the Vikings may have priced themselves out of the Twin Cities market, but I don’t see a whole lot of markets that are beckoning them in spite of the scuttlebut. There is no deal in L.A. that works; the Vikings will want too much for the team to make it work for either of the so-called private stadium projects, and there’s not enough revenue in the L.A. deal to make it attractive enough for the team. Rather than doing their homework and negotiating with the team on the basis of whatever leverage the state may have, the politicians resort to becoming cheerleaders instead. Imagine if a governor actually went to the team and said, “Look, I’ll try to work a deal out with you, but if you start inventing all these bullshit numbers about jobs and development, we’re going to have a problem. We’ll do what we can, we’ll try to be fair, but we’re not going to feed the public a lot of crap.” Maybe then they’d actually have to get real about what they need instead of just throwing out some ridiculous number. $700 million for a stadium? That’s crazy. I suspect you could build a perfectly wonderful palace for about $300 million. If that’s not good enough for the team, then tough. We’re not breaking the bank for them. Quite honestly, most football fans can’t afford to go to the games anyway, so the only “fan experience” they care about is on the TV. How fancy the stadium might be is meaningless.

  5. Tom, that’s more-or-less what I’m trying to say:

    Either be honest about it, or go away. It’s when they try the third approach — we don’t care about popular opinion, we’re gonna do it anyway — that I get frustrated.

    The way they funded the new baseball stadium in Minnesota was appalling.

  6. Tom says, “Quite honestly, most football fans can’t afford to go to the games anyway, so the only “fan experience” they care about is on the TV. How fancy the stadium might be is meaningless.”

    How true this is.

  7. Tom is right. The Vikings have no place to go at this point in time unless it is the Metrodome for 2012 and beyond. The AEG proposal is crap, the city of Industry proposal is out of the way, and the only reason why I see Minnesota lose the Vikings is if training camp is moved out of state.

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