Rybak, Johnson feel some heat from senators
by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
City of Minneapolis officials were both slammed and assisted in their stadium quest during a Senate Vikings’ stadium hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 29.
Vikings’ stadium point man Lester Bagley repeatedly indicated to the joint Senate committee the team’s preference for the proposed Arden Hills’ stadium site, saying the team believes it’s important to stick with the local partners — Ramsey County — that have stuck with the team.
“The Vikings followed the path that was prescribed to them,” Bagley said of finding a local partner.
But Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson also appeared before the committee, hawking stadium opportunities in downtown Minneapolis.
“We’re not talking about putting purple paint on the Metrodome,” quipped Rybak of one downtown proposal being pushed by city officials.
But Rybak and Johnson received some of the most brusque questions from the state senators in the hearing.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, accused the Minneapolis officials of being late with their stadium proposals, and further criticized the city for not settling on a single proposal.
“If you’ve got three, you’ve really got none,” said Michel, alluding to the three stadium proposals floated by the city.
Rybak countered by saying the city has wanted to meet with Vikings’ team officials for a long time, that the city’s proposals weren’t half-baked, and that the reason the city had temporarily stepped back was out of consideration for other local players.
The city has an existing hospitality sales tax that could be used as a financing mechanism, Rybak explained. Plus the city already has the infrastructure, Rybak pointed out.
“We do not ask you to build a single new road,” he said.
But Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, a longtime foe to publicly subsidized professional stadiums, also questioned the Minneapolis officials about a voter-approved referendum that caps the city’s financial participation in sports stadiums to $10 million.
“Why don’t you go to the voters and ask them to undo it?” Marty asked.
The Minneapolis officials said that issue would need to be solved by legislation.
Johnson depicted it a “fool’s errand” to attempt to reverse the referendum.
“I think it would be a fruitless effort,” she said.
Marty deemed Johnson’s attitude as insulting to Minneapolis voters.
Yet Senate Tax Committee Chairwoman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, urged Vikings’ team officials to confer with Minneapolis officials on their proposed downtown stadium proposals.
Bagley said after the hearing the team would follow the suggestion.
“If we’re obligated to do that, we will do that,” he said.
But Bagley went on to say the team had spent months vetting the Arden Hills’ location.
“It’s a facility that no longer works for the state,” said Bagley of the Metrodome during committee testimony.
Ortman said after the hearing she encouraged the Vikings to sit down with Minneapolis officials as a means of sorting out viable stadium proposals.
“In my mind it puts them back in the game,” she said of city officials bringing up the use of the local sales tax.
The city had in part been looking at Block E gaming as a source of stadium dollars.
Ortman pointedly asked Ramsey County officials who appeared before the committee where their portion of the Ramsey County/Vikings’ Arden Hills stadium proposal would come from?
The county-wide local sales tax proposal Ramsey County officials had put forth has proven a dead starter.
Although the hearing was focused on possible stadium locations, a voice from Greater Minnesota, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, suggested the ultimate solution will not be settled by the metro alone.
“This is going to be a hard thing to find 34 votes for. It’s not very popular with the public,” Bakk said of passing a stadium bill.
The Senate is expected to hold a second hearing next week devoted to stadium financing issues.