Construction trade union members crowd City Hall
MINNEAPOLIS -- If anything stops the new Vikings stadium it won't be an elected body made of politicians.
The $975 million project cleared its final political hurdle Friday, when it won final approval from the Minneapolis City Council on a 7 to 6 vote.
Although the council members have remained divided along the same lines for the past two months, stadium foes used the meeting to voice their objections one last time for the historical record.
"Now we're the laughing stock for financial incompetence," Council Member Gary Schiff told his colleagues.
"The City gets the costs. The state gets the financial benefits. And the Wilfs profit enormously," Schiff said, referring to family that owns the NFL franchise and has agreed to spend $477 million on the project, plus $13 million annually in operations costs.
The stadium bill passed the state legislature on the final session of the 2012 session after 10 years of debate, and was signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton May 14.
It calls for Minneapolis to foot $150 million of the initial construction costs, plus $189 million spread over the first 30 years of the stadium's life. The city will pay for that by diverting existing local option sales and hospitality taxes currently being spent on convention center improvements.
"Corporate welfare is corporate welfare," Council Member Lisa Goodman remarked, warning the stadium could become a financial burden similar to the failed Block E retail-entertainment complex downtown.
"Instead of giving $300 million to one business, why wouldn't we fund 300 businesses with $1 million each? I bet they would create more jobs."
But defenders of the plan say it will preserve and expand the area's hospitality industry, measured by one study a $1 billion segment of the local economy.
"So even if you believe there will be nothing new from this, how could we stand by and let an industry that secures 3,500 jobs, that are permanent, leave?" Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy asked, in explaining her yes vote.
Council Member Don Samuels, noting the coffee cups on many council members' desks, noted that the beverage has little nutritional value and yet there's a thriving demand for it. He said professional football is much like that, and said it's only a matter of which cities exploit that demand to their best advantage.
"This stadium was going to be built," Samuels said. "Believe me, it was going to be built, with or without the city of Minneapolis. What we did earlier on is, we stepped to the table!"
Samuels represents the northside neighborhood, which traditionally has the highest jobless rate in the city. He asserted that the stadium will be an opportunity to capture jobs that pay more than minimum wage.
After the vote Vikings fans who had attended the hearing followed Mayor RT Rybak to his office, and asked him to toast the victory by drinking from a Vikings horn filled with Minnesota-made Grain Belt Premium beer.
"I've got to tell you there's been some rough moments, but having you guys to lean on the whole time meant everything," Rybak told the fans, many of whom were decked out in homemade Vikings costumes sporting purple face paint.
At that point Larry Spooner, the Plymouth man known as the Super Fan, grabbed the mayor and lifted him off his feet.
"It's not professional, but we love you! We love you!" Spooner exclaimed.
Rybak and Gov. Dayton will have 30 days, according to the provision of the bill, to appoint five members of a new stadium authority. That board will oversee design and construction of the project, to be built at the site of the Metrodome.
The new stadium's footprint will be offset to the east, and done in phases, affording the team the opportunity to play in the Dome during the early stages of construction. Eventually the team will have to play most of one season at the University of Minnesota in the outdoor TCF Bank stadium.
The state's share will be $348 million, financed with appropriations bonds that are to be repaid with special taxes on a new form of charitable gaming known as electronic pull-tabs and electronic bingo.
The status of those bonds may be affected by a pending Minnesota Supreme Court Case involving another new type of bond. The court is reviewing the constitutionality of the $750 million in tobacco appropriations bonds the legislature agreed to issue last year as a way of plugging the budget gap.
Those bonds are to be repaid with future revenues of the State's 1998 health care lawsuit settlement with major tobacco companies. If the high court were to strike down those bonds, then the stadium bonds could conceivably also fall into question.
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