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Council Member Meg Tuthill’s stadium support hinged on Minneapolis property tax relief and jobs

Meg TuthillCouncil Member Meg Tuthill

Property tax relief and job creation were important to Minneapolis City Council Member Meg Tuthill in working her way to the decision to support the city’s Vikings stadium proposal.

Tuthill, who represents the city’s 10th Ward, came to City Hall from the business community. She says the lessons she learned while selling party and festival supplies also played a role in her decision.

In an interview with MinnPost, she had a lot to say about all the factors, including a memorable incident about the financial impact of city amenities that can draw outsiders with money to spend.

Council Member Meg Tuthill: Having the store for 30 years on Hennepin, I remember that when the NCAA finals were here, that tiny little 800-square-foot store made enough money — and it supported two families — that we could have closed down for a quarter. That was huge money for a small business.

While they [the NCAA visitors] were here, we also connected them with DJs, folks who do ice sculptures, caterers, florists and so on.  The money was unbelievable.

I’m sitting in a meeting with the Target Center folks and the University of Arizona folks. And a woman from the University of Arizona said, “You know your sound system is OK, but I’d like to have it a little better. Can you ratchet it up?”

And the Target Center folks said, “Sure, it will be 20 grand.”

She didn’t bat an eyelash. She said, “Fine, next agenda item.”

I never, in 30 years, heard clients from corporate ever do that — never, never once. I was stunned at the money. Stunned.

You remember those things from your experiences. The fact of the matter is we would also be able to host large conventions that the Convention Center can’t hold like Promise Keepers.

That was 70,000 people when they came here. That’s an amazing number of people. You know they all eat out, they all stay in hotels and rent cars. The thing you love about religious groups is usually we don’t need to have police on overtime because they’re not tearing up downtown or the neighborhood with drinking or acting like fools.

Another thing that came into play for me was the fact that the sales tax is not ours. [The state hospitality sales tax imposed on Minneapolis currently funds debt service and some operation costs at the Convention Center.] We are just the fiduciary agent that collects the tax.

The Legislature, for the last couple of years, has been threatening to take that money away from us. What concerns me is, stadium or no stadium, if they took that money away, we would still have capital improvements at the Convention Center and the Target Center that we’re responsible for.

Right now that money does not come out of our general fund. And I don’t want that out of the general fund. That would cost our property taxpayers even more for those capital improvements. 

We need to keep this a Class A city with Class A venues. That came into play.

I’m also very interested in all of the other activities that go on in a large sports arena. Our kids play football and soccer and other games that come here. So that’s important to me.

In a perfect world, do I want public funding? Of course not. None of us do.

In Green Bay when they let the community buy shares, as a person who is not a big sports fan, would I have bought a share? Absolutely. Because it’s part of the fabric of our community that balances everything. The arts that we have are sterling. And for the folks who are into sports this gives them something they’re interested in.

And I believe it’s going to bring plenty of work here. The jobs are really important. Construction jobs are never permanent. We’re going to do this piece of construction and then we move on.  This is going to put a lot of folks back to work, and that’s important to me.

MinnPost: So big factors for you were that the stadium is good for jobs, good for the community and very good for business?

MT: Absolutely good for business. Sometimes we forget how good it is for our businesses.

MP: What were the negatives?  What made this decision difficult?

MT: The city charter is a big deal for me. [The City Charter requires a citywide vote on any sports facility costing the city more than $10 million.] But the fact of the matter is, quite frankly, we can vote on anything we want in this city as council members, or private citizens, but the Legislature has the final say.

We don’t have a say in overriding that charter.[The current stadium bill has a clause that overrides the city charter.]  If we did, it would be a different ballgame in my estimation, but we don’t have a say in that.

The Legislature will dictate whether or not the charter is overridden, and they have overridden it in the past. So that’s neither here nor there.

I sure as heck wish that we had a little more money coming to us for some of the naming rights. That would have made me a lot happier.

I still think that Mayor [Chris] Coleman’s 2-cent tax on every drink that gets drunk in a public institution in the state of Minnesota is absolutely, in my world, the best way to pay for a stadium because everyone is chipping in, including folks who come across the border to watch the games.

And including folks like me who don’t attend the games but think it’s important to the fabric of life here. That would have been my first funding choice, Mayor Coleman’s idea.

But my understanding is that the Republican caucuses at the Legislature just wouldn’t hear of it, which is really too bad. Heck, 2 cents isn’t going to make a bit of difference to anybody.

MP: The stadium bill would allow the city to use the sales tax revenue to pay for the Target Center, which will save property taxpayers an estimated $5-million a year.  How important was property tax in your decision?

MT: Huge. I think property tax is a huge issue to the constituents in Minneapolis. Property taxes and jobs — those are two huge issues for the people of Minneapolis.

It doesn’t matter what income level they’re at. Houses that aren’t selling for half-a-million dollars — those owners feel the same crunch the rest of us have felt. Property tax is a big issue for people. Certainly, when I was door-knocking, property tax was the No. 1 issue.

I want property tax relief.  I want jobs. And I want out venues to continue to be first-class facilities.

MP: You have been making your decision on the stadium at the same time as Council Members Sandy Colvin Roy and Kevin Reich. They reached the same conclusion you did.  Have you three talked about this? Did they share their concerns with you?

MT: The stadium has been an interesting issue for all of us up here. My conversations with Sandy and Kevin have really been about the fact that we will support each other’s decision whatever that will be.

I have not talked to them since they made their decisions, so I don’t know what all went into their decision-making.

I know they were feeling a lot of pressure, and I know this was a huge struggle for them, like it was for a number of us.

My position as a colleague was to reaffirm that they have the right to the position they choose to take, and I will defend and support that right forever.

MP: Was there a tipping point for you in this process? A moment when you saw clearly what your position needed to be on the stadium?

MT: I don’t think there was a final tipping point. I think there was a combination of things.

Reading and listening to the emails and voicemails I received from my constituents and people from across Minneapolis was important. I care about what people think.

My constituents split about 50-50 on the issue. It would have made it a lot easier if they had been heavier on one side or the other, but they weren’t, so it was kind of left up to me.

We live in a government that is not a total democracy. We are a representative government, and my job right now is to make those tough decisions.

I care if the decision is right or wrong. I have to look past my term here because I’m not going to be here forever. I don’t plan to be here forever, and nobody wants me here forever.

I have to look at the long range, 30 years down the road, when I will probably be dead and gone.  And I’m hoping we have made — and I feel that we have made — the right decision.

Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.

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Comments (9)

Some nonsense

Having a place for Promise Keepers to meet us not a reason to build a new stadium. It's not like the dome will evaporate if a stadium is not built. The bottom line is whether this is a good deal to host 10 Vikings game per year.

Businesses

She does seem to argue at one point that all of us should pay more in taxes so she can have a really good weekend at her store. That's not quite enough.

Just for clarification

She no longer owns that store. She sold it a few years ago. So any benefits to local businesses that a stadium may bring will not benefit her from a business standpoint. This is simply a straightforward example of first-hand experience of how a major sports event can benefit locally based businesses.

I must have left my rose-colored glasses in the car

because what I just read was "It's not our money", "The Legislature can do what it wants" and "If we don't agree, the Legislature will take the money [that isn't ours] and make us pay for improvements to our facilities ourselves". As for the business boost, if it's that great, perhaps Minneapolis should bear the entire cost.

I'm weak in math, help me.

So how many millions of tax relief to Mpls residents get from our 600 million dollar gift to Ziggy? Also the 50-50 comment at the end. She says her constituents were coming in 50-50 on the stadium but every survey I've heard about had residents decidely against the public paying for this. Seems like if people weren't so opposed to this all these politicians wouldn't be jumping through semantic hoops in order to justify this end around of what was clearly the choice of the voters when they passed that referendum bill.

My final question is that I wonder if Ziggy is giving out time shares to his 10+ million dollar New York City condo to some of his new favorite people.

It's a 20 million dollar condo

Just trying to help you out with the math here.

Imagine what the real estate taxes are on this one of his homes. No wonder he needs a handout.

What a load of crap

The logic of this City Council member is astonishing. Is her thinking really so shallow, or does she hold the people of Minneapolis (and in her ward) in utter contempt?

Promise Keepers? Class A? Jobs? The city charter "neither here nor there" ? Puullllleeeezzzz, give us a little credit.

"We live in a government that is not a total democracy. We are a representative government, and my job right now is to make those tough decisions." What we have now, at the local, state, and national level, is neither a democracy nor a republic - it is a DOLLARocracy.

We're getting the best governance that money can buy.

Stadium

The more one reads about this stadium boondoggle, the worse it becomes.
After Ziggy gets naming rights, valued at 100-500 million according to an article in the Strib, he will have virtually no skin in the game, but will have almost all of the profit. Books written by Dave Zirin, Roger Noll, and others have shown that sports stadiums funded by the public are some of the worst investments possible for taxpayers, but we never or rarely see articles citing these authors. Propaganda supporting the "job creators" continues to abound, and to add insult we're supposed to be overjoyed to be part of a "People's Stadium."

Looking beyond...

Mumbo jumbo mumbo jumbo. This deal requires $16 million worth of new annual expenditures for the city of MPLS. These people seem to be saying that this deal will somehow manifest that money without pulling it out of any existing obligations. This isn't adding money to the MPLS budget, it's just allowing them to redirect money into the stadium deal. It's fuzzy math at best.

And as for jobs, I'm curious as to what exactly is the REQUIRED formula here for local job creation? Since MPLS is footing half the bill I assume they have some enforceable guarantee from the Unions that 50% of the construction jobs will be given to MPLS residents? And by the way, we'd be spending almost a million dollars per full time equivalent, which means that this is actually a job killer rather than a job creator. You get two years worth of construction jobs and you spend $40 million a year for the next 30 years paying off the debt. Debt payments don't create jobs, if you put that $40 million into ongoing infrastructure, you'd create jobs for 30 years instead of just two, and you'd get a multiplier effect in the economy.

Apparently all of this escapes the "real world" business minds of a lot of people. I've been saying for years now that one of the biggest unrecognized problems we have in America is mediocre business minds.