Ramsey County’s Plan B on Vikings stadium

A letter from Ramsey County Charter Commissioner Peter Hendricks has some intriguing details about the county’s prospects for bringing the Vikings to Arden Hills.

A county deal struck with the team in May called for a half-percent sales tax to service about $350 million in debt for a local share of construction costs. That got sidelined — first by hearings over a proposal to put the plan to voters, then by legislative unease about exempting a deal from a state-required referendum.

The county, along with state Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, have since taken up a second strategy — hospitality taxes. They’re weighing a 3 percent restaurant and bar tax and maybe other levies as well, to service stadium debt.

Lanning and other supporters contend such taxes don’t require voter approval, bypassing the sales tax difficulty of the original Arden Hills plan.

Not so fast, says attorney Peter Hendricks, a member of the Ramsey County Charter Commission — and one of the commissioners who voted AGAINST a charter change that would have required a stadium to be put on the ballot.

The trouble, he says, is that the county is legally required to borrow money through an ordinance mechanism, which makes it subject to a vote and potential recall, under the county’s own charter.

“A local food and beverage tax will face the same obstacles as a local sales tax option if Ramsey County intends to issue bonds to contribute $350 million in capital contributions,” Hendricks writes.

And here’s where the plot thickens.

Hendricks suggests there may be an end-run in the works: “It now appears that there is a concerted effort by some Ramsey County politicians and others to seek legislative approval for a Ramsey County food and beverage tax that will be used to finance bonds issued by a political subdivision other than Ramsey County.”

Nobody’s copping to the offer yet. Tiny Arden Hills, potential host of the stadium, isn’t likely to sign off on a $350 million bond. “Uh, no,” were mayor David Grant’s exact words.

But in an interview, Hendricks suggested that some more muscular entity, like the Metropolitan Council (chaired by former Ramsey County Commissioner Susan Haigh) could step in. Hendricks says that’s simply his read of the Ramsey County letter from December, rather than any first-hand knowledge of stadium finance prospects.

You can read the rest of his letter here:

Hendricks Letter