Instead of economic development, a city chose rich man's stadiums

Tens of millions of dollars could have gone into North Side economic investment. Instead, the city is building a stadium and renovating an arena.

Tens of millions of dollars could have gone into North Side economic investment. Instead, the city is building a stadium and renovating an arena.

The Jamar Clark shooting has rippled through the hallways of Minneapolis government in umpteen ways. Unlike protesters crashing meetings or press conferences attended by national media, a more subtle example is Councilman Blong Yang's idea to create a group that would address the city's gaping economic divide.

Not long ago, politicians already had that chance. They chose subsidizing rich mens' toys over residents.

The lost opportunity starts and ends with two professional sports franchises, the T-Wolves and Vikings. What seems like long ago was 2012. Minnesotans couldn't get away from politicians talking about saving the NFL franchise by building it a new stadium. In the mix was chatter over sales tax revenues. Everyone knew big cash — an estimated $30 million annually, perhaps more  — was going to come available around 2018. The bonds for the Minneapolis Convention Center would then be paid off, freeing up funding for other needs.

Former Mayor R.T. Rybak repeatedly argued that Minneapolis needed the stadium deal, not vice versa. Once the center's debts were satisfied, Rybak argued, the funding stream would be dead. According to the charismatic mayor, that's what the law said.

But he had the answer. 

By requiring Minneapolis' stadium deal to pull from sales tax revenues, the specter of losing the source was preempted. If that wasn't win enough, said Rybak, more of that same cash could pay to renovate the taxpayer-owned Target Center.

It was a win-win proposition, Rybak told his constituency. The stadium deal would serve the people by ensuring that the sales tax machine kept rolling.

Not everyone was beguiled by sexy sports projects. Nor did all believe the mayor was being straight with his facts. At the front of the line was Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-Minneapolis). The lawmaker representing Northeast was behind a 2009 law that could have been huge had it been allowed to come into play during the stadium debate. It grants use of excess sales tax revenue to fund "capital projects," including residential and economic development in "Minneapolis neighborhoods."

What those leftovers would be is open for debate. It could have been millions, perhaps tens of millions over time.   

What went down in 2012 might best be encapsulated by an evening. 

At a stadium forum hosted by Rybak, Loeffler repeatedly raised her arm. She wanted to talk about other priorities that were screaming for help. It was the boring stuff of job training, affordable housing, and neighborhoods. The then-mayor wouldn't call on her. He must have had good reason. 

Rybak smoothly transitioned into private life where he's an author and a Democratic party celebrity. He couldn't be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the likes of Yang are left with flaccid options like work groups, looking for new ways to address the same problems that have only gotten traction since Rybak's triumphant goodbye.