Opponents rallied to block approval of taxpayer-financed stadium
By Mel Reeves
In an effort to discourage the Intergovernmental Relations Committee vote on Thursday, May 24 and the Minneapolis City Council members approving the proposed Vikings Stadium bill the following Friday, opponents rallied on Wednesday, May 23 outside the Minneapolis City Hall. Their intent was to prevent Minneapolis citizens from footing part of the bill to build the stadium.
“Too much public cost for too little public benefit,” was how Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden summed up the public investment in the new Vikings $975 million “People’s” stadium.
The effort by the City of Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota to keep the Vikings in Minnesota culminated in what appeared to be a costly win. In winning last week, the City appeared undemocratic. In order to push the stadium funding through, Minneapolis performed an end run on its own City Charter.
The charter would have given the citizens of Minneapolis an opportunity to vote on whether it wanted a stadium or not through a referendum. There was a narrow seven-to-six vote on last Friday approving the building of the new stadium by 2016 on the current Metrodome site.
Minneapolis passed a charter amendment in 1997 that allowed citizens to vote on expenditures of $10 million or more. The state legislature, in passing legislation to get the new stadium funded, nullified the charter amendment. City Council Member Gary Schiff, who coauthored the amendment, voiced his displeasure during last Thursday’s City Council meeting, in which the council approved the state funding bill.
“Overriding the charter, to me is a betrayal of the citizens and the vote that they clearly expressed themselves in 1997,” said Schiff. The win will also cost Minneapolis at least $150 million and the State is responsible for $348 million, which does not include potential operating costs overruns, for which the City would ultimately be responsible.
However, winning in this case definitely depends on perspective. Many Viking fans are thrilled because they will get to keep their team. But there may be some loss there as it’s likely the Vikings will charge personal seat licenses (PSL’s) for fans who want to continue to purchase season tickets. And there is also the likelihood that ticket prices will be increased.
While many of the citizens saw the approval of the new People’s stadium as a loss for the citizens of Minneapolis in particular, there were some bright spots. Mayor Rybak and other proponents spoke of the employment boost that the construction of the stadium would bring to the area. Some opponents pointed out that the jobs would still have been available even if Vikings ownership paid for it.
And thanks to the behind-the-scene work of HIRE Minnesota and the diligent work of Rep. Bobby Joe Champion and Sen. Linda Higgins, a “stadium equity plan” was included in the legislation approving the stadium. This plan promises to give people of color a fair share of the construction workforce jobs and construction contracts. The legislation also calls for an employment assistance firm to help secure qualified minority applicants.
The Minneapolis City Council, led by council members Glidden, Robert Lilligren, Don Samuels and Betsy Hodges, issued a “staff direction,” which proposed its own “stadium equity plan.” Mayor R.T. Rybak signed off on it as well. City workers, particularly workers from high-poverty areas in Minneapolis, the Black community and communities of color and women, have been promised a fair share of the construction contracts and jobs.
“Since half the money is coming from the city, half the jobs should [go] to the city,” said Council Member Schiff.
“A spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down,” is how City Council Member Cam Gordon characterized the effort. Council Member Quincy referred to the staff direction as an “incredible step forward.” He said that it was important to him that the stadium benefits local residents and help address current disparities.
The Minneapolis equity proposal includes regular oversight of construction goals by the Civil Rights Department, and this will apply to vendors and service providers to the new stadium as well.
While the monies that were generated do not call for new taxes for Minneapolis residents, it guarantees that there will be no lowering of downtown sales taxes, which are among the highest in the nation. But some of the stadiums opponents mockingly refer to the deal as “Wilf-fare,” callng the deal corporate welfare because Ziggy Wilf is the private owner of the Vikings and will benefit financially from what Council Member Gordon called, “the largest public subsidy in the history of Minneapolis.”
The argument presented by the stadium’s proponents is that a professional football team is good for business, especially downtown business, and makes it easier for the city to lure commerce and tourism.
Questions were also raised by opponents about the wisdom of building a stadium while so many of Minneapolis residents are struggling simply to survive.
A new five-member Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority will oversee construction of the stadium and will have some responsibility in holding contractors accountable to all approved construction goals.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to [email protected]