Vikings stadium plan makes debut

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A sports-themed lottery game and new taxes on hotel stays, car rentals and sports memorabilia are the linchpins of a Minnesota Vikings stadium proposal that top Democratic legislators characterized Monday as a long shot to pass this year.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty also said he wasn’t willing to budge on his resistance to tax increases even as Minnesota leaders worry about the team relocating after its Metrodome lease expires next year.

That public money would be expected to amount to about two-thirds of a $791 million project, with the Vikings paying the remaining third — about $264 million. The city where it would be built has not been determined.

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Lawmakers behind the plan admitted the bill is getting a late start, with just two weeks left in the 2010 legislative session and a budget deficit still unresolved. The tardiness led legislative leaders to downplay its chances.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said the proposal has “a lot of problems” and predicted passage would be “very difficult.” Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller called it “a tall order.” Both Democratic leaders, who represent Minneapolis districts, say they won’t keep the session open just for up-or-down stadium votes or give the bill special treatment to move it along. Neither committed to supporting it themselves.

The bill made a splashy debut at a Monday morning news conference where backers from labor unions and downtown Minneapolis business groups insisted action was critical to keeping the team. The legislation starts heading through a series of committees on Tuesday.

“There are a lot of things to like in this bill and there are things that are going to give people heartburn,” said Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, the chairman of the Senate taxes committee and the bill’s chief sponsor.

Bakk said a stadium project could mean $300 million in wages for the construction trades, which have been hit hard by the recession. He also said low finance rates make it a good time to build a stadium. He said waiting a year would likely add $50 million to construction costs and be more difficult politically as well because next year is a budget year.

Pawlenty, who is considering running for president, said he opposes stadium legislation that includes new state taxes.

“The Vikings are a valued asset in Minnesota. We want to keep ’em in Minnesota. But we’re not going to be raising or dealing with state taxes to subsidize that,” Pawlenty told reporters during a Washington trip on Monday. “If somebody has a creative solution, we’ll take a look at it.”

Vikings executive Lester Bagley said the team wasn’t ready to commit to the proposal, but called it “a great start to the conversation.”

The biggest part of the public money would come from a nearly 7 percent tax on jerseys, trading cards and other sports memorabilia, which would bring in an estimated $17 million a year. The 1.5 percent hotel surtax in the seven-county metro area would bring an estimated $8 million, and the sports-themed scratch-off game and rental car tax would each bring in an estimated $5.5 million.

An alternative proposal discussed Monday would use the lottery game and an extension of taxes now being used to pay for Minneapolis Convention Center after that debt is satisfied in 2020. That option also allows Minneapolis officials to use a portion of the convention center taxes for police and fire protection downtown and to help retire debt for Target Center, the aging arena where basketball’s Timberwolves play.

While backers pitched the taxes in the bill as affecting people who benefit from the stadium, it would draw money from a much wider circle. The state Chamber of Commerce has voiced opposition to the lodging tax because it would rope in business travelers. Chamber President David Olson said the car rental tax is problematic, too.

Former state Rep. Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, also took aim at the plan.

“It’s just an outright fabrication to say they can do this with ’user fees.’ It just doesn’t work,” he said, adding, “People who buy a Twins jersey are going to be paying for a Vikings stadium. You’re asking people who buy a Wild jersey to pay for a Vikings stadium.”

The proposal calls for the Vikings, whose lease expires after the 2011 season, to sign a 40-year lease. And it would require the league to commit to hosting a future Super Bowl in the stadium.

Bagley said the $264 million contribution expected from the team is higher than franchise owners are ready to agree to. He also said they have reservations about the 40-year lease.

The team amount is based on a stadium with a fixed-roof. Bagley said the Vikings share should be calculated based on a roofless stadium, which would lower the obligation to about $210 million.

The legislators said that besides Vikings games, a new stadium would host up to 300 major events annually.

Lawmakers pushing the plan are counting on excitement over the Twins’ brand-new Target Field to focus attention on the product instead of the cost.

“I would challenge anyone to say ’Target Field was a mistake,”’ said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont.