Minnesota politician aims to keep Vikes

MINNEAPOLIS -- Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner sketched out a plan on Thursday for a new Vikings stadium that would have the team paying 40 percent of an estimated $900 million project.

Horner told The Associated Press that the state would pay the rest through a penny-per-drink liquor tax statewide, plus revenue from a racino and a tax on game tickets. Horner said that would produce a "state-of-the-art" stadium, likely one with a fixed roof that would keep the Vikings in Minnesota for the next 40 years and bring Super Bowls, Final Fours and other major events to the Twin Cities.

"We've punted long enough," Horner said. "2011 is the year we need to get this done."

The Vikings' Metrodome lease expires after the 2011 season and the team has said it won't renew it. Owner Zygi Wilf has not yet threatened to sell the team or move it to Los Angeles, but Horner said that's a legitimate risk -- unlike when the Twins were campaigning for a stadium in the 1990s.

"The Twins didn't have Los Angeles sitting out there with no NFL team, a league very interested in bringing that TV market into the fold and a group ready to build a new stadium to host an NFL team," Horner said. "We know how long it took to get an NHL team back here after we lost the North Stars. To get an NFL team back here, if it ever happened, it would be maybe a generation or more."

The Vikings said they liked Horner's proposal but would be looking to lower the 40-percent share as well as the tax on tickets sold for the new venue. The team lobbied hard to get lawmakers to take up the issue this spring, to no avail.

"There are issues that need to be negotiated," said Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs. "But I don't want to nitpick. This is substantially a very positive development and a very solid proposal."

Democrats and Republicans in the race haven't offered stadium plans. Rob Hahn, who is running against Horner in the IP primary, on Wednesday proposed three different options. Any of them would include only about $200 million in state money, which is nowhere near what the Vikings would need to complete the project.

Supporting a stadium is a political risk with the state facing a $6 billion budget deficit. Horner said he expects to be criticized for misplaced priorities.

"My response to that would be, Minnesota can't afford a leader who is only willing to lead in certain areas," Horner said. "That's been our problem."

To help make payments on a new project more manageable, Horner wants the Vikings to sign a 40-year lease, 10 years longer than the traditional lease.

His plan has two more main points:

• If the Vikings are sold, taxpayers would get part of the increased value of the team due to the new stadium.

• Revenue from non-Vikings events at the new stadium, including concessions, advertising and suite sales, would go to the state to help with an estimated $32 million to $34 million annual cost on 40-year bonds.

Horner said if he's elected the stadium issue would be addressed in the 2011 session, right after balancing the budget and dealing with other core services including health care and education.

"My first message to the legislature is batten down the hatches, it's going to be a busy session," Horner said. "But it's going to be a busy and productive session because we've got a big agenda and we're going to get things done.

"Do the core essential services of Minnesota first, balance the budget, then let's focus on the stadium."

Before he was a candidate for governor, Horner owned Himle-Horner, a public relations firm in Minneapolis. Horner said he never worked with the team on any projects and sold his stake in the company not long after he got in the race. The Vikings worked closely with his partner John Himle on several issues, some of which were related to the stadium, but Bagley said they are not currently working with Himle.

He estimates the new stadium would generate $26 million in annual tax revenue, create hundreds of new construction jobs and help attract major events to the Twin Cities.

"We just can't afford to lose this asset," Horner said. "We can do it fairly. We can do it without jeopardizing other services."