Mayor pitches plan to keep Vikings in town

Published 11:19 pm Monday, October 24, 2011

ST. PAUL — Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak made a pitch to Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday to keep the Minnesota Vikings in downtown Minneapolis, saying a new football stadium could be built more cheaply there than the team’s preferred site in the suburbs.

Rybak emerged from a meeting with Dayton saying that he’d prefer a statewide sales tax increase, but the most realistic way to pay for the city’s share of a new stadium is with a citywide sales tax increase.

The hike Rybak envisions would also pay for renovations to the city-owned Target Center, where the NBA Timberwolves play, and for property tax relief.

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The idea has some similarities with a proposal Rybak floated last May that would have raised about $200 million for a stadium and about $100 million for the arena. The mayor said he and his staff will spend the coming week putting together a more specific plan for the governor, who hopes to call a special session for Nov. 21.

The push has taken on added urgency because the Vikings’ lease on the Metrodome runs out after this season, and Los Angeles and other cities would love to snare an NFL team.

Dayton told reporters he is still neutral on a site, but that those who favor Minneapolis will have to come up with a more attractive proposal than team owner Zygi Wilf’s plan for a $1.1 billion stadium in Arden Hills, north of St. Paul. The Vikings have made clear that’s their preferred site.

“Minneapolis feels very strongly the Vikings should stay in Minnesota,” Rybak said. “Because we feel so strongly about it we’ve stood back quietly for the past six months and been supportive of the Wilfs’ favorite site. … But it’s also important for us to articulate and articulate more strongly that the best place for the Vikings to be is in downtown Minneapolis. We believe we have at least one and probably three great options that are all more viable than the current plan that’s on the table.”

Dayton said he plans to unveil his own proposal at the end of next week to give lawmakers a couple weeks to study their options.

Rybak said he prefers the current Metrodome site but didn’t rule out two proposals on the other side of downtown, one where the Minneapolis Farmers Market now stands and another near the Basilica of St. Mary. He said he would oppose a referendum on a sales tax increase, which stadium opponents are pushing in Ramsey County, which includes Arden Hills.

The Vikings, who have long said the Metrodome doesn’t generate enough profits, have teamed up with Ramsey County Board members to push a plan to put a new complex on the site of a former Army ammunition plant in Arden Hills.

The county would pay $350 million, likely through a half-cent countywide sales tax increase, while the Vikings would cover about $400 million of the cost plus any overruns. That would require the state to come up with $300 million.

Since Republican legislative leaders say stadium money can’t come from the state’s general fund, the remaining possibilities could include special taxes tied to the game or revenue from expanded gambling, perhaps “racinos” at the suburban Canterbury Park and Running Aces horse tracks, a casino in the Block E mall in downtown Minneapolis, or something else entirely.

Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson, who joined Rybak in meeting with Dayton, said she believes the council would approve a Block E casino.

However, expanding gambling would face strong opposition among many legislators and from tribes with reservation casinos.

Rybak said he wouldn’t rule out a casino if it delivered some aid to the city’s American Indians.