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How do Minneapolis council members really feel about a stadium? I’m asking them one by one

Getting a hard count of “yes” and “no” votes at City Hall is not easy, especially when the stadium plan seems to change on a daily basis.

I’m old and cranky — and tired of hearing so many folks say with certainty what a majority of the Minneapolis City Council will do about a Vikings stadium.

The reality is that they haven’t voted yet, and some council members are being very quiet about their eventual decision.

Getting a hard count of “yes” and “no” votes at City Hall is not easy, especially when the stadium plan seems to change on a daily basis.

In the interest of casting some light on the thinking process in the ongoing discussions at City Hall, I’m asking council members to share their thoughts on the stadium plans.

I don’t know for sure where this is going, but I do know that council members have more to say on most topics than yes, no or maybe.

I’ve decided not to wait until I’ve interviewed all 13 members before posting anything. That’s because as the stadium plans change, so may council members’ thoughts. A yes vote today might be a no vote tomorrow, and vice versa.

Here are my first two interviews:

Council Member Gary SchiffGary Schiff

Council Member Gary Schiff

Schiff is a DFLer who represents Ward 9, which is south of the University of Minnesota and east of downtown.  He was first elected to the City Council in 2001. His views:

“I think the framework of the deal is a bad one. The framework was set up by the governor, and it has the team paying a minority share of the cost. All I think it has succeeded in doing so far is pit one end of the metro against the other in a zero sum game that does not increase economic activity for our region.

“The NFL is saying no to basic user fees, such as ticket taxes and parking fees, and only the governor and the state Legislature can negotiate with the NFL to have basic user fees be included as a component of the public financing.

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“Zygi Wilf wants all the money from the parking, and he wants to stop ticket taxes so he can charge more for game prices without impacting the wallets of fans. The entire debate has been set up to make one millionaire a whole lot richer with a lot of public dollars on the table.”

“Since the Legislature won’t pass any new taxes, I think we’re best to wait until after the election and deal with a new leadership in the House and Senate. I think the new Legislature will be much more reasonable than what we have now, which is a divisive, Tea Party-driven Legislature that is focused on dividing Minnesotans and not addressing basic problems.

“The NFL has concurred that they are saving L.A. for an expansion franchise, not for a relocation [as would be the case with the Vikings]. So there is no larger media market to be worried about because most of the profits in professional sports come from broadcast rights for the games, not the number of luxury boxes — which is what’s driving the so-called need for a new stadium.

“Make no mistake about it — the Metrodome makes a profit for Zygi today.”

MinnPost:  So this is not about a referendum. (Schiff was co-author of the city charter amendment requiring a vote by the electorate before more than $10 million can be spent on a sports facility.)  You are looking for a completely different method of financing?

GS: We’ve got the city and state contributing two-thirds of the cost essentially. Two-thirds isn’t the exact percentage, but that’s $300 million from the state and $300 million from the city.

No community, after the great recession and eight years of Pawlenty’s administration, has an extra $300 million to spare. What the city was going to do to come up with $300 million was sell bonds at a 4 percent interest rate over 30 years.  The total cost of that was actually $618 million.  I can think of a lot of better priorities for $618 million.

MP:  Is it worth that much money if you consider the number of jobs this would create? The last number I heard was 7,500 jobs.

GS: If you calculate the number of jobs created by the amount of money put in, you’ve got one of the worst ratios of subsidies per job created that I’ve ever seen in an economic development program.

MP:  So for you, this is not about a referendum? This is about what you see as a bad financing plan?

GS: Absolutely. We need to look at what other NFL owners have been contributing. There’s a lot more private money in other recent stadium deals.

Council Member Cam GordonCam Gordon

Council Member Cam Gordon

Gordon is a member of the Green Party who represents the University of Minnesota and the surrounding neighborhoods. His views:

“As a country we probably need to have a more thoughtful discussion about how we want to invest our public dollars.

“I have big concerns about us spending public money basically to benefit large, well-to-do private companies. We have to be careful when we start doing that. I think it gets harder and harder to measure public benefits. I tend to think we can put our public investment into our common commons, our public infrastructure. What we need to do is invest in having more public structure.

“If we’re actually going to put in $600 million, or more, to invest in something, well, let’s have a thoughtful discussion about what’s the best thing to do.

“It’s hard for me to see the city taking on $300 million of debt without actually thinking about what we want and what makes the most sense and if we want to extend taxes to pay for it.

“It worries me.  I know we do invest in things. For example, the Guthrie probably got $25 million in the bonding bill, so there is public money that goes to these things.

“I think we need to put it into perspective, and maybe what we need to do is just have a bonding effort. A little bit of help for the Vikings, so they can renovate [the Dome]. I’m saying, ‘Maybe there’s some amount we can spend.’

It’s terrible to see these football and sports teams pit communities against communities, cities against cities, across the country. I thought it was really unfortunate what they did here, saying, ‘We need a local match and let’s have all of you compete about how you can best do that.’ ”

“So we had some people from Ramsey County rise up and some people from Minneapolis. And here we are competing against each other for this regional amenity, which is really a private enterprise, which I suspect is bringing in millions and millions and millions of dollars.

“I also think they have reasonable credit, so they could have the wherewithal to finance it on their own. And if it’s a bad idea to have private industry finance something like this, well, maybe the public shouldn’t be doing it either.”

MinnPost: It sounds to me that the concept of spending public money on this project is a big stumbling point for you?

CG: Yep, got it right there. We need to decide what do we want and who do we want to be subsidizing. What do we want to have owned by the public? I would rather see us own a municipal power plant and be able to invest in clean energy, owning and running that like we do the water system.

MP: A few weeks ago, when the mayor presented the stadium plan to the City Council, you said if there were no referendum, you would not be part of the project. Has that changed?

CG: No, that hasn’t changed. I definitely think we should be following the charter and putting it on the ballot, because that’s really a great way to test it because [the decision] is so delicate, controversial and difficult.

My sense is it would have the policy-makers and advocates try to develop a better plan that serves the general public better if they knew they had to bring it to them for a vote.  So I think it’s a great idea.

I’m not saying whether I would stay neutral or join one side of the campaign or the other if it ever went to a vote.

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.