Republicans roll out open air Vikings stadium plan

6:21 AM, May 2, 2012   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Republican legislative leaders rolled out a new stadium game plan Tuesday, one that the Vikings, Governor Dayton and Mayor RT Rybak all oppose.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean's proposal will effectively dump the all-season roofed "People's Stadium" envisioned in the current bill and replace it with an open air facility.

And, instead of free-standing stadium bill that relies on new gambling to finance the state's share, the public's portion of the project would be added instead to a regular bonding bill.  That debt would repaid by taxpayers over a 30-year period like other public works construction project.

Under Dean's concept, however, the state would only pay for infrastructure improvements around the stadium site, such as streets, sewers and utilities.  The part of the project that most people see, from the ground up, would fall on the Vikings and the City of Minneapolis.

"We're basically saying everything from the turf down is infrastructure and that would be what would be considered bondable for this particular project. It's infrastructure only," Dean told Capitol reporters.

"The Vikings will be working with other stakeholders in determining what the stadium looks like."

House Speaker Kurt Zellers said it's the plan that will gain the most support from the Republican legislators who control the House and the Senate.

"In concept I do think this is a good idea based on how much member support it has," Rep. Zellers, a Maplewood Republican said.

"At the end of the day if you're going to have a proposal that isn't going to have member support or you're not going to have members behind it, than its an interesting proposal but not something that can pass."

The original plan that made it to both the House and Senate floors called for the state to pick up $398 million -- roughly 40 percent -- of the upfront costs. But operations and maintenance costs would fall to other entities.

The team would foot $427 million upfront and $13 million annually, while the City of Minneapolis would pay $150 of the initial construction costs plus $180 million in operations and maintenance expenses over 30 years.

Zellers and Dean said their plan would save the state more than $100 million dollars, and the infrastructure work financed by general obligation bonds would amount to 20 to 25 percent of the total project.

"There is no racino, there is no casino, there is no gambling in this proposal," Dean said. "We will pay for this the way we pay for all infrastructure, through the capital investment committee."

Republican leaders insisted originally that no general fund taxpayer dollars be spent on the stadium, so the authors of the bills turned to expanded gambling as a source of revenue to repay the state bonds.

They settled on the idea of legalizing electronic pull-tabs and electronic bingo games as a source of funding, but those revenues will be divided with the charities that currently rely on the traditional paper pull-tabs.

Dayton Denounces Secret Maneuvers

Hours before Dean and his Republican colleagues announced their new stadium plan, word leaked to Governor Dayton. He called a news conference to accuse GOP leaders of conducting secret talks with the Vikings about the alternative plan.

"We've been working on this bill for eight months and in a bipartisan way," Dayton said.

"And now today, the day after the legislature was supposed to go home, they come out with a brand new financing that totally revamps it, totally changes it from what it was intended to be --a people's stadium -- to something else!"

Dayton coined the term the People's Stadium in 2011, based on the notion that it would be available all year to host high school and college events.  The Vikings have often touted the roof as essential for drawing huge events, such as a Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four.

What stunned Dayton the most was that Republican leaders had led him to believe that negotiating a business tax relief bill was the key to bringing the stadium bill to a vote in the full House.  That, in turn, was expected to lead to a vote in the full Senate.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley held a news conference shortly after Dayton's, assuring the public that the team had not attempted to negotiate a secret deal with Republicans or to blind side the Governor.

Bagley said that Majority Leader Dean had asked for figures relating to a roofless stadium, in an effort to see if the Vikings' owners would stand by their original commitment of $427 million in private money.

"We provided discussion documents and feedback. But it's not a proposal that we support," Bagley explained. "It's a concept, and it's an idea, that we responded to questions from Majority Leader Dean."

He said the team answered Dean's requests, but had not tried an end-around the Governor or the authors of the existing stadium bills, which still await action on the House and Senate floors.

"Make no mistake. The Vikings stand with the agreement we've negotiated. We spent many years, weeks and days and hours working on a term sheet that was negotiated in good faith."

DFLers are painted Dean's maneuvers as a last ditch effort by Republicans to kill the stadium issue, while at the same time looking as though they tried to work out a deal.

"The stadium bill that's sitting on the House floor is the stadium bill that House Speaker Kurt Zellers demanded so that he could satisfy other interests in the state," House DFL Leader Paul Thissen remarked.

"And now they're doing a total 180 degree turn -- going to a general fund source to pay for a stadium that will only be used by the Minnesota Vikings!"

Minneapolis leaders also based their financial support to the stadium on the basis it would be available throughout the calendar year, not just for NFL home games.

"The proposal that is apparently being discussed dramatically lowers the Vikings' share without lowering the share for the city of Minneapolis," Mayor R.T. Rybak told reporters.

"That is a dead deal because this partner is not going to be part of that."

Later Sen. Julianne Ortman, the Chaska Republican who heads the Senate Tax Committee, said she didn't expect such a strong reaction from Democrats to the sudden stadium switch.

"I'm surprised that there's been such an overreaction from the Governor over the legislature doing our work," Sen. Ortman said.

"This is what the legislature does. We've pulled together ideas that have been proposed by other legislators here at the State Capitol."

Several sources told KARE that the original stadium bill had enough votes in the House to pass, but that the plan was facing an uphill battle in the Senate.  

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )

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