There were lots of words and familiar arguments but, in the end, no changes in position when the Minneapolis City Council gave preliminary approval Thursday to the city’s financial commitments to the Vikings stadium plan.
The council, meeting as a committee of the whole, signed off by the predicted 7-6 vote tally, which had been projected for more than a month.
The vote, which came amid strong pressure from supporters and opponents, reinforced the entrenched stance of each council member.
The plan, which will receive a final vote on Friday, would shift hospitality tax dollars to fund part of the stadium’s cost after other city obligations are paid off.
The same sort of complex relationships and unlikely partners that carried the Vikings stadium bill through the state Legislature earlier this month prevailed again Thursday.
Just as Democrats and Republicans and business and labor came together at the Legislature, Vikings fans, union workers and advocates for the poor all showed up to voice their support for the $1 billion stadium plan.
“I know this is a strange marriage. We have weird guys dressed up in Vikings clothes, and then we have hard-hatted guys and African-American guys who just walked out,” said Council Member Don Samuels, whose ward includes parts of North Minneapolis, where unemployment is particularly bad.
“There’s a strong link between them, between the things we like to do for fun and the jobs we get to support our families, and this is the link right here. We’re making that connection today. It costs us something, but it’s worth it,” he said, supporting the stadium deal for the jobs he said it would create.
Of particular interest to Samuels was a provision the council adopted which instructed city staff to start work on ensuring strict minority hiring standards are enforced on the stadium project, which could begin construction next spring.
The plan is expected to pass the full council Friday morning by the same vote, although members said they’d likely make similar arguments heard Thursday.
The council’s majority supporters, though a thin margin, contrasts with the stands of most legislators from Minneapolis, many of whom voted against the proposal.
Council Members Cam Gordon, Lisa Goodman, Robert Lilligren and Gary Schiff were the most vocal opponents of the proposal, which would fund the city’s $150 million share of the stadium, plus fund long-sought renovations of the Target Center. The total payments are much larger, if interest is taken into account.
“I haven’t been able to sleep in weeks,” Goodman told her colleagues. “So few people will change their minds because ultimately this is an issue about how we feel about ourselves as elected leaders in this city.”
“For that reason, I just can’t even imagine that this is something we would do, and it’s something that I not only cannot be proud of … I’m not sure that I want to be part of a government anymore … that behaves this way,” she added.
“Then quit,” said two union guys, who were watching the debate on a television in an overflow room at City Hall.
Vikings fans draped in purple gear, dozens of union advocates dressed in orange shirts and a contingent of citizen opponents crowded in the City Council chambers to watch the proceedings.
Stadium opponents, some of them part of the Occupy Minnesota movement, criticized the proposal because they said it bypasses the city charter amendment that requires a citywide vote for any city spending of more than $10 million for a sports stadium.
Proponents and the city attorney have said the charter provision does not apply because the city does not control the state-levied tax. In addition, the final stadium bill specifically waived any referendum requirement.
Detractors on the council also opposed what they believe will be the largest public subsidy of a capital project in Minneapolis history. They proposed multiple hypothetical situations where the city even would have to foot the state’s portion of the cost.
Schiff wanted the financing plan rejected and sent back to the Legislature to be reworked, preferably through user fees.
“We’re going to disagree on whether this is a perfect deal or not, but I can tell you: there is no way on God’s green earth we’re going to go back to the Legislature and have the governor say, ‘Oh, OK, never mind about all that political capital I had,” Mayor R.T. Rybak told the council. “Welcome back, Minneapolis. Let’s go do another thing.”
Rybak, his staff and some council members traded jabs throughout the three-hour meeting, but the mayor appeared upbeat and jubilant while he addressed reporters after the vote.
The mayor said if the council reaffirms Thursday’s vote, he’d be able to focus exclusively on city issues for the first time during his 10-year tenure in office. Rybak said he started working with the Twins on Election Night after his first successful mayoral bid and has spent a lot of time at the Capitol working on stadium issues ever since.
“I’m very proud of this because we’ve taken one of the most complicated, long-running public issues in the history of this state and come up with a plan that makes sense for the people of Minneapolis,” he said.
Rybak, who hasn’t decided if he’ll run again, didn’t seem concerned with the possibility of being ousted for championing the stadium.
“There are absolutely political consequences — positive and negative. No doubt about it,” he said. “I stepped up and said I was going to make a tough decision, and I’m proud of that decision.”