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Council Member Betsy Hodges details her objections to Minneapolis stadium plan

“I don’t believe in public funding for private sports,” she says.

Betsy Hodges

She took herself out of the Vikings stadium conversation the day Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak first formally presented the plan to members of the City Council.

 While some of her colleagues were finding parts of the plan to praise, Council Member Betsy Hodges said she was philosophically opposed to the plan. That could be the end of conversations meant to persuade her, but Hodges has plenty to say on the topic.

The Ward 13 council member represents the southwest corner of the city and chairs the council’s Ways and Means Budget Committee.

This is another in our series of individual interviews with council members about the city’s stadium proposal.

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MinnPost: You took yourself out of the stadium conversation on Day One, when you told the mayor you are opposed to public funding for sports facilities. Tell us how you arrived at this conclusion?

Betsy Hodges: I object on three levels … Philosophically I don’t believe in public funding for private sports.

It’s a private business and — granted there are certain concessions and inducements we give to increase development, and I am not opposed to those in general — but for something of this  magnitude, for something that so much benefits so few people, it’s challenging.

If we’re going to raise that amount of public money, is that what we want that money to go to?

The argument that people make is that it highlights the profile of Minneapolis, that it makes people want to come here to live, work, play and spend their money.

My argument is not just for Minneapolis but for the state of Minnesota. That level of investment in education or that level of investment in infrastructure would have the same results in terms of people wanting to live, work, play here and invest here. Invest in their businesses here. Other businesses would be drawn here far more than they would be for a public sports facility.

If you invest that amount in education and you tie it to outcomes, not through tests, making sure people are ready for the 21st century workplace — it shows that Minnesota will have the work force that’s needed — well educated, well trained and ready for the needs of the 21st century. That is what industry is looking for as it decides where to invest its dollars.

If you were to do that investment in infrastructure — if you were to invest that amount of money in our roads, in our bridges, our transportation system, and more to the point, transit linking various parts of the state by rail as opposed to roads, or in addition to roads — that would create an environment that industry would look for, that small business owners would look for.

People who are eager to live in a metropolitan area, eager to live in Minnesota, would be drawn here to live, work and play and it would spur development.

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We know that stadiums or sports facilities are not generators of economic development. They are enhancers of economic development. The idea that you’re going to plant a stadium somewhere and that increased economic development will spring up around, it is a fallacy.”

Do I believe there are benefits to the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis from having the Vikings here?  Absolutely, I do.

But it’s a cost-vs.-reward calculation: How much money are you investing and how much are you getting back? I think it is a bad cost-vs.-benefit calculation. It is not a good cost-vs.-benefit calculation for baseball parks, and they have 80 games a year.

“For the Vikings — for a football stadium, it’s eight games a year, 10 if you’re really lucky — I don’t know when we’ll see that again, although I hope it would be soon, regardless of where they are playing.

MP: You said you have three objections.  The first is, clearly, that the money could be better spent. What comes next on your list?

BH: “The second objection I have is to this plan in particular. I laud — I appreciate — the mayor and the council president trying to find a way to expand the state’s view of the role of the Target Center in the state. … I’ve been working toward that effort myself for the past six-plus years.

However, the plan that was put in front of me is predicated on a series of assumptions. If you start from the premise that the state is going to take away our Convention Center dollars, there is implicit in that that we don’t trust the state. Then, to put forward a plan that would tie us more closely to the state on a number of projects strikes me as flying in the face of the premise of the whole project.

The past is prelude. The state was supposed to take on the Target Center. It didn’t. And the residents of Minneapolis were told that if you want to keep the Timberwolves here, you’re going to have to take on the Target Center.

At that time, the city leaders decided to take on the Target Center — which many, including myself, have said out loud was a bad decision.

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If you take that the past is prelude, there is no guarantee that in the future if a stadium for the Vikings is built, that the residents of Minneapolis won’t be told by the state that they don’t want to be part of it anymore, so if you guys want to keep it, you should pay for it. And if you don’t, the Vikings are going to leave which is essentially what they’re doing now.

MP: So you don’t trust the state because of how it’s behaved in the past. What about the numbers you’re seeing?

BH: The numbers should be enough to spur interest. They should not be enough to spur a vote.  Those numbers are not solid enough, or explicit enough to say, “Hey, we should vote on this.” So even if I didn’t have the philosophical differences with this plan, I would not urge people to vote on it.

I don’t like the parts where it doesn’t add up to the amount of money needed over time. I’d like to see city staff take a look at it and verify the numbers that have been put together by a consultant.

I’m not sure our finance staff has been consulted about the accuracy of the numbers or the accuracy of the assumptions.

The other flaw here is it’s a package that puts the Convention Center, the Target Center and the Vikings stadium in the hands of the state, as well as the local partner. But there’s been no information about how the folks involved in that partnership would decide the relative investment in each of those three facilities.

MP: The day this plan was presented to the council, you said you didn’t like being against something supported by your colleagues. Do you still feel that way?

BH: I have plenty of colleagues who are in accord with me on this.

But the council president has been a great ally, and the mayor has been a great ally on many, many things in the past. We haven’t always agreed, and we don’t agree on this one.

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But I know what I think. I know what my constituents think. I don’t think anybody should be surprised that the stance I’ve had for the last 15 years is the stance that I have in 2012.

MP: What is your third, and final, objection?

BH: I actually don’t believe in governance by referendum.  I believe that we have a democracy, that we elect people to make decisions.

That said, there was a referendum that passed in 1997 that changed our charter, that requires a vote if the city is going to spend more than $10 million on a public sports facility.

“So even if I didn’t have a philosophical objection to public funding, even if all of the questions were answered about the current funding plan, we’d still be left with the question of the people of Minneapolis, the vote they’ve taken and the vote they want to take in the future.

I believe that needs to be respected.

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.