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Friday, May 26, 2006

Will Hennepin County Residents Get Fleeced Again?


Vikings rethink stadium game plan
Team says alternatives to Blaine site needed after rejection by lawmakers
By Bob Shaw
St. Paul Pioneer Press
The Minnesota Vikings are renewing their vow to build a stadium, though not necessarily in Anoka County.

After the team suffered a stinging setback at the state Capitol to its $790 million stadium proposal, a Vikings spokesman said Tuesday that the plan in Blaine might be too bogged down by politics to be viable.

"We have a great partnership with Anoka County, but we need a Plan B and Plan C. Mr. Wilf is very much a Plan B and Plan C kind of guy," said Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley, referring to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf. "There may not be an opportunity in Anoka County. Things change."

Bagley wouldn't say what other sites might be considered for a Vikings stadium.

The Vikings were left out of legislation that will provide stadiums for the Minnesota Twins and the University of Minnesota. But Bagley was encouraged by one little-noticed provision approved by the Legislature that would earmark most of the proceeds from the sale of the Metrodome site to a Vikings stadium.

Vikings officials estimate the downtown Minneapolis site would be worth about $45 million. Of that, the first $5 million would go toward the Twins stadium, and the rest would go toward the state's share of a Vikings stadium.

"We see that as a down payment," said Bagley.

Bagley said another reason for hope was that the bill rejected a referendum on a 0.15 percent sales tax to cover Hennepin County's share of the new Twins stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

Bagley assumes the Vikings will get the same break.

"There is definitely a precedent set by the Twins," he said.

Still, the state's rejection of the Vikings stadium left Blaine Mayor Tom Ryan and other supporters discouraged.

"It's pretty disgusting to have it end this way," Ryan said. "It's sad. This has been four years of work for us."

And despite the Vikings' optimism, plans for an Anoka County stadium face several complications, most notably a fight over the public's right to vote on a stadium tax.

Public opposition to a proposed Anoka County tax increase appears to be stronger than in Hennepin County, in part because the Anoka plan assumes a 0.75 percent sales tax — five times more than the tax for the Twins stadium.

Various polls have shown support for a referendum on the tax as high as 80 percent, and four cities have passed resolutions supporting such a vote.

Stadium backers admit that voters probably would turn down a stadium tax, but they say similar large projects have used public money without voter approval.

The Anoka County Board of Commissioners has supported imposing the tax without a referendum. The tax would pay the county's one-third share of the stadium's cost, with the remainder coming from the state and the team.

The two naysayers on the board — Rhonda Sivarajah and Jim Kordiak — have supported a referendum.

"I am not against the Vikings, but I want that vote," Sivarajah said. "I am not fond of public subsidies for stadiums. The owners could be building them on their own."

Four of the seven Anoka County Board members face elections in the fall. Although no new pro-referendum candidates have emerged, Sivarajah said, "I certainly have heard murmurings."

Bagley said that if the county decides to put the tax to voters, the proposal would die.

"If the political will evaporates, we have got to be prepared," he said.

Another worry is county funding for lobbying and public education.

The county has spent $600,000 on the stadium effort and earmarked an additional $300,000 for "mega-projects," including the stadium.

Stadium supporters talked about that money and the sales tax revenue as seed money — creating 13,000 temporary and long-term jobs and millions of dollars in annual tax revenue.

But in a year when the county is making cutbacks in its human services budget for such programs as child protection, Sivarajah is balking.

"On one hand we say we need to make these reductions, but on the other we have money to dump into studies and promotions for the Vikings," she said.

It will be interesting to see what Minneapolis City Officials will do about this one. Will RT Rybak go and testify in favor of this nonsense as he did for the Twins?

Ofcourse there are similar questions about what Hennepin County spent lobbying this nonsense.