Political showtime surrounding the Vikings’ quest for a football stadium officially began this morning with a “public hearing” over where the stadium should be built.
This hearing of the joint state Senate Taxes and Local Government committees was largely predictable. After all, what hasn’t been said about how or where or if a publicly-subsidized stadium should be built?
But there were moments of good theatre, the best coming in a bit of slapdown match between Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.
Rybak had made the Minneapolis presentation to the panel of senators, which actually was three presentations as the city still is coming forward with three potential sites: a rebuilt stadium on the Metrodome site, the Farmer’s Market site and the relatively new entry, a hunk of vacant land not far from the Basilica.
Michel leaped all over the mayor. “Mayor Rybak, some would say you’re late to the dance,” he said. “A lot of work already has been done by Arden Hills [the Vikings’ favored site].”
He ridiculed the idea that the city still is touting three locations. “If you’ve got three ideas, you’ve really got none,” he said. “What are you waiting for? Get together with the Vikings. You’re already months behind.”
Rybak’s face appeared to redden as Michel spoke.
“Look at the facts,” the mayor said to Michel. The city, he said, chose to lay back in an effort to be a good statewide citizen.
Staying in the background was “in deference to others, including Ramsey County,” Rybak continued. “That’s not inaction. That’s trying to solve a big problem.”
The city got involved only after legislators knocked the legs out from under the Ramsey County plan by saying that any Ramsey County effort to raise stadium funds through use of a sales tax would require a referendum of Ramsey County voters. All parties seem to understand that a referendum surely would be defeated.
With the sales tax option essentially removed from the table, Rybak told Michel, the city decided to step into the breach with plans it has developed over the years.
Though he later denied he was upset by Michel’s late-to-the-dance comment, Rybak pointed out to Michel that only one local partner, Minneapolis, “is bringing any money to the table.”
Rybak said that when the convention center bonds are paid off in 2020, the city could use revenue from the taxes being paid by hotels and restaurants to pay off obligations for the city’s portion of the football stadium. The mayor admitted that using those funds would “require sacrifice.”
In all likelihood, the convention center always will require funding for improvements and additions that will keep it competitive with convention centers elsewhere. Still, he said, it is a source of revenue that remains real. No other local partner has real money to play the stadium game with.
Rybak repeatedly spoke of why the stadium would be best built in downtown Minneapolis. The transportation corridors are set. Unlike a site in Arden Hills, where the Vikings would control the parking and how much is charged, downtown Minneapolis offers “a better deal to fans.” Fans, Rybak pointed out, would have choices on where to park, where to eat, where to stay.
Rybak, speaking directly to Michel, said there was one reason the city hasn’t recently spoken with the Vikings. “We’ve wanted to meet with the Vikings,” he said. “They’ve chosen one site.”
That site, of course, is the Army munitions site in Arden Hills. The Vikings and Ramsey County officials still were singing the praises of that site at the hearing this morning.
Over and over, county officials and Vikings executives talked of the “people’s stadium” that could be built on the site. (It was Gov. Mark Dayton who first used the “people’s stadium” idea.)
This stadium and a parking lot that would hold more than 20,000 cars would be built on 260 acres. The remaining 170 acres would be developed by the Vikings.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, pooh-poohed the notion that this would be a publicly owned stadium. By being publicly owned, Marty noted, the Vikings would be able to duck property taxes. The Vikings would be collecting as much as $1 million from the parking lots each game day. “We build it, you get the money,” Marty said, contemptuously.
But again, we’ve heard it all before.
Inside and outside the hearing room, the public also weighed in. There were people carrying signs, “Don’t make the poor pay for a rich man’s stadium.”
There were people in Vikings’ jerseys, supporting the project. One of those Viking fans, Larry Spooner, who was wearing an Adrian Peterson jersey and a Vikings’ cap, testified during the public portion of the hearing.
The best site, he said, would be Arden Hills, where fans would have plenty of space for tail-gating. “It’s all about the game-day experience,” he said.
He had “a funner time” in a Kmart parking lot near the Green Bay Packer’s stadium earlier this year than he’s ever had in downtown Minneapolis.
Perhaps the most unique idea for a stadium was advanced by Bill Jewell, a Bloomington resident, who thinks a new stadium should be built on the Phase 2 site at the Mall of America. “That’s the only site that would generate tourism,” he said.
He suggested that the Gophers, who play in a brand new home, should move their “rivalry games” with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa to the new Mall stadium as more inducement for tourists to spend money in Minnesota.
His most unusual idea for this new stadium was for how it would be heated. The stadium, he said, would be open to joggers whose energy would be captured and used to heat the place.
The committee didn’t seem to take Jewell seriously, especially after members learned that Bloomington city officials have no interest in a Vikings stadium.
In fact, this morning’s hearing was just a warm-up. Next week, the air will get more heated when financing is to be discussed.
To that end, at an early-morning meeting, members of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce heard representatives of the three gambling enterprises discuss how gaming revenue could fund all, or part of, the public portion of the stadium. On hand at that event were representatives from the Block E Casino development proposal, racino and charitable gaming. All promised pots of gold at the end of gaming rainbows.
It’s important to remember two things surrounding the stadium debate: It’s just begun and no solution has yet been found.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, who sat in on the hearings, put it bluntly. “It’s not going to be over soon,” she said.
But then, Minnesotans are used to long stadium debates.
Dan McElroy, a former state legislator and aide to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, was at the early-morning Chamber meeting. He’s researched the history of stadium debates in Minnesota. They go back to 1897, he said.
At the time, Marquette Field, which was located at 9th and Marquette in downtown Minneapolis, was torn down so the site could be re-developed. The new stadium, Nicollet Park, was constructed at Lake and Nicollet. Many were unhappy with this distant location.
“It was off the horse tram track,” McElroy explained. “People were upset because it was hard to get to.”