Updated: 01/21/2014 10:31 PM
Created: 01/21/2014 2:56 PM KSTP.com
By: Cassie Hart
Minnesota's Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the funding plan for a new Vikings football stadium, eliminating a legal obstacle that threatened a last-minute derailment of the project.
Minnesota finance officials postponed a $468 million bond sale while the case was pending. After the ruling, the chairwoman of the government authority managing the construction said she believed the project could be kept on schedule, despite earlier worries about possible delays and cost overruns.
"We are confident that we will be able to move forward very quickly, to get the financing in place for the bond sale and to keep things on track," said Michele Kelm-Helgen, board chairwoman for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.
The nearly $1 billion stadium, on the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis, has a planned opening of July 2016.
Doug Mann, an activist and former Minneapolis mayoral candidate, filed the Supreme Court lawsuit on Jan. 10, arguing the stadium funding plan was unconstitutional. But the state's highest court disagreed.
State law "does not confer original jurisdiction on the court to resolve all challenges to legislation authorizing the use of appropriation bonds," the court's five-page ruling read. It was unsigned and issued "per curiam," meaning on behalf of the entire court. Justice Alan Page, a former Minnesota Vikings player, did not participate.
In other words, the court told Mann that he should have challenged the constitutionality of the bond sale in a district court lawsuit, not to the Supreme Court. Mann had previously filed a similar lawsuit in Hennepin County, which a judge dismissed.
The Supreme Court ruling noted that Mann had a petition on that matter pending with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. But that court also denied Mann's petition on Tuesday, saying he filed the wrong type of appeal and has now missed the deadline for filing a proper one.
Mann issued a written response Tuesday that read in part, "I will consider my appeal options in the lawsuit against the city, decide whether to take further action within a few days."
A spokesman for the state's Management and Budget office, which processes bond sales, couldn't immediately say when the stadium bonds would be sold now that the legal obstacles have fallen away.
It's likely to be soon, though Kelm-Helgen said possibly not soon enough to meet several planned payment deadlines. However, she said several contractors working with the state on both the stadium and a related development project have signaled they are open to slightly delayed payments to keep original timelines intact.
Gov. Mark Dayton, who earlier Tuesday had expressed worry that the lawsuit could put the project at risk, thanked the Supreme Court for acting quickly.
The stadium project has seen its share of stumbles since the Legislature signed off in May 2012. The initial plan to use electronic gambling proceeds to cover the state's debt fell miserably short. Last year, lawmakers reopened the financing plan to substitute other tax dollars for the state's $348 million share. An additional $150 million is coming from a sales tax diversion in Minneapolis.
The city component is what triggered Mann's lawsuit. He contended the agreement illegally circumvented a Minneapolis charter provision that should have put the matter before voters.
Vikings executives haven't commented on the legal wrangling, and the team isn't party to the case. Team owners are drawing their $500 million stadium share from personal seat license sales, an NFL loan program and other private sources. The ownership already upped its contribution when it became clear that some amenities wouldn't fit within the original $975 million budget, and the Vikings have already spent $50 million on construction.
The Vikings have agreed to play two seasons at the University of Minnesota's on-campus football stadium, which seats fewer fans than the Metrodome or the new stadium.
Workers deflated the Metrodome roof Saturday, and demolition of the building is getting underway this week.
Governor Mark Dayton released the following statement:
“I want to thank the Minnesota Supreme Court for its decision to dismiss this lawsuit, and for resolving this matter so expeditiously. Although I felt it had no merit, I was extremely concerned that this lawsuit would delay the financing of the stadium, and the progress of the $400 million development adjacent to it. Today’s decision clears the way for thousands of Minnesotans to get to work on these two important projects. I again thank the Supreme Court for its swift action on this matter.”
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter released the following statement:
"We appreciate the Supreme Court’s quick and decisive ruling in the Stadium case. In combination with the Court of Appeals ruling, the path to permanent financing of the stadium is more clear. As a result, MMB and the state’s financial team are turning to selling the necessary bonds to keep the Stadium project on track and allow the Stadium Authority to make timely payments on construction and land acquisition agreements. We are pleased with these developments and look forward to a successful sale of Stadium bonds."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.