Given that so much of Tuesday’s Vikings stadium hearing focused on various forms of gaming, here’s a look at some of the winners, losers and long shots.
• Almost a sure thing: The money to fund a stadium isn’t going to come from the arts and cultural legacy money. That trial balloon, floated by a legislator months ago, never gained much altitude.
And it was shot full of holes by arts groups at Tuesday’s lengthy joint Senate committee meeting.
A large delegation of arts supporters stood outside the hearing room carried not so subtle signs for legislators to ponder, such as:
“Did Zygi doorknock in 2008? We did.”
But it wasn’t just the arts crowd making a point that a football stadium deosn’t qualify for Legacy Amendment spending.
Outdoor organizations sided with the arts folks, too.
“They [outdoor organizations] understand that if they [legislators] can steal arts and culture funds, they’d be next,” said Sheila Smith, executive director of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, who helped organize the arts turnout.
• A pretty sure thing: The Vikings will play in the Metrodome next year, with or without a completed stadium deal. The Vikes and the Stadium Commission are having a seemingly friendly disagreement over clauses in the expiring lease.
The commission says because the roof fell on the Dome last season, the team didn’t play the entire 2010 season in the Dome, as required in the lease, and therefore must stay an extra year.
The Vikings dispute that, but not strenuously. The fact that the NFL didn’t even bother to send a representative to this hearing further suggests that the issue isn’t as urgent as the team would like it to seem.
• A big loser: The Vikings, who have been trying to impress people by saying the $425 million they’re willing to invest in the stadium is “the third highest” investment ever for a pro team. After Wednesday’s hearing, it’s likely the team will have to up its ante.
Legislators were struck by several realities, including the belief that the public investment the team is seeking “is the biggest subsidy of all time,” in the words of DFL Sen. John Marty of Roseville.
Beyond that, Sen. Julianne Ortman, the Chanhassen Republican who chaired the session, kept asking about what revenue the public would gain from the stadium.
“Naming rights?” she asked the Vikings’ Steven Poppen.
That revenue would be for the team, he explained.
Ortman asked about revenue that might be raised through sales of personal seat licenses. (That’s money raised from ticket holders who pay, sometimes thousands of dollars, for the privilege of buying tickets.)
That revenue would be for the team, Poppen said.
Would a sweetheart loan from the NFL be in addition to the Vikings portion or as part of it?
That would be part of the Vikings investment, Poppen explained.
By this time, several senators were scratching their heads and shuffling papers.
• The biggest loser: Ramsey County officials, who still have the site the Vikings’ want, but with a sales tax off the table, have no way to pay for it. Unless, of course, one of the many gambling proposals wins favor in the Legislature and both “local” and “state” portions of the public subsidy come from the same pot.
Ortman kept trying to pin down Ramsey County finance chief Lee Mehrkens on where the county’s money will come from.
Mehrkens dodged, deked, bluffed.
Ortman pressed. Where’s the money?
“We have thoughts on a financial proposal,” Mehrkens said.
“We’re listening,” said Ortman.
• Best cards up: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak seemed to win at least considerable attention from the senators when he said the city’s top choice for the new stadium is the old Metrodome site.
The senators seemed to understand that light rail and other infrastructure already exists at the site and were mildly interested in the “game day” experiences Rybak promised the fans could have at the old armory nearby.
But what really talks at the Capitol is money. Rybak insists the Metrodome site would cost $215 million less than any other site.
He also says the city could eventually come up with some $300 milllion by extending the convention center tax at some point in the future.
But that’s where the city’s deal gets hazy. Without some serious editing of the city charter, it’s not clear how available that money would be for a football stadium. It’s not even clear how much support there is for the stadium among Minneapolis City Council members.
• Biggest long shot: The White Earth Indian proposal to build a $700 million tribal hotel/casino in Arden Hills.
The plan, proposed by tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, was one of the few new ideas presented during more than five hours of testimony. But the plan, under which the state and tribe would split projected $300 million in annual profits, is so new that the White Earth leaders have not talked about it with the Vikings, Ramsey County or officials in Arden Hills.
New ideas don’t tend to get taken seriously at the Capitol because legislators typically need years to kick around an idea before they find a comfort level with it.
• Most comfortable hand: Because a racino proposal has been around for a decade, legislators — and the public at large — seems more comfortable with putting slot machines at the area’s two racetracks than any other gaming plan.
It doesn’t hurt that at the hearing, racinos were proposed by three senators, Claire Robling, R-Jordan, Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, and Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin.
“We [racinod] can be the local partner,” said John Derus, a board member of the Running Aces racetrack in Columbus.
• Best dice roll: UNITE HERE, the union group working closely with private investors who want to turn Block E into a major casino, paid to bring a Detroit casino worker, Sandra Poinsettia, to testify. She was brilliant.
Most who testify at these hearings come with charts about potential revenues, or studies that show possible outcomes.
The Block E developers, meanwhile, talk about the casino as a place that will employ more than 2,000 people.
Poinsettia put flesh and bones on that projection. “These are good jobs,” she said, talking of $15-an-hour jobs with “the best benefits anywhere.” People enjoy their work, and the casinos have helped turned Detroit around, she said.
Poinsettia realized she was being given more time to speak than most at the tightly controlled hearing. “I think you’re being kind because I’m a visitor,” Poinsettia said to Ortman.
“I am,” said Ortman, smiling.
But Ortman also was being kind because this was a real person talking about a real job in a gritty city.
“You still hear a lot of negative images about Detroit,” Poinsettia said. “But come to downtown Detroit. You’ll have a good time.”
• The big bet: Will anything get accomplished on a stadium plan — either a thumbs up or a thumbs down — in this legislative session?
Most pols seem to think it’s unlikely, not with an election a few months after the session ends. The betting among most is that the safest thing for pols to do is nothing.
But Rep. Morrie Lanning, the Moorhead Republican who is leading the push in the House to get a Vikings’ deal done, thinks that’s a bad mistake.
“We’ve got to make a decision in the near future,” he said. “It’s not going to be better — or easier — a year from now.”
Lanning, who watched the entire Senate proceeding Wednesday, said that he believes most Minnesotans are weary of the procrastination by politicians on the issue.
“If nothing is decided, both opponents and proponents of a stadium will be upset,” he predicted.
“If it just keeps hanging out there, I think people will remember that when they go to the polls. They want a conclusion.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.