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Vikings stadium planners duel in court with project foes

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The teams behind the effort to construct a new Vikings stadium have lined up helmet-to-helmet against three opponents of the project in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

At issue in the time-sensitive, high-stakes legal battle brought by three state residents is whether the state can issue bonds to help pay for its share of the new $1 billion, 65,000-seat venue. Both sides in the skirmish filed their arguments in the state's high court on Thursday.

The three Minneapolis residents — former mayoral candidate and unemployed nurse Douglas Mann and his wife, Linda; and former city School Board member David Tilsen — say the bond sale is unconstitutional. The trio delayed last week's issuing of the bonds with their lawsuit and potentially threw a costly postponement into the project timeline.

“The state of Minnesota and its taxpayers have a vested interest in the state’s creditworthiness and the compliance of public officials with the law,” the three said in their case briefs. “[We] have a right ... to restrain a public official from the unlawful use of public funds.”

The forces lined up behind the new downtown Minneapolis stadium include the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget, which would issue the state bonds. The panel argued that stadium legislation does not give a few irked citizens the “authority to determine the validity of the stadium bonds,” the Star Tribune notes.

The project-managing Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority also weighed in with tough language, noting that the lawsuit could disrupt the "delicate timing" of the project and make it more expensive despite "meritless arguments that cause harm not because they are valid, but merely because they have been asserted,” the authority said in its filing.

And the authority got personal, noting in its briefs that “Mr. Mann appears to be a serial litigant, determined to keep asserting meritless claims until this court, the final arbiter of Minnesota law, definitely disposes of those claims.”

The Pioneer Press reports Mann fired back, saying the stadium fight "is the result of the Authority's own malfeasance and not of any lawsuit brought by the petitioners. The Authority purchased Goods and services without legally available funds to pay for them."

The state aims to sell $468 million in bonds to finance the public's share of the cost of the new stadium. Timely sale of the bonds is key to the project, which is on a tight schedule with a goal of opening for the 2016 season.

The City of Minneapolis has agreed to pay a $150 million share of the nearly $1 billion project, and the state's share is $348 million ($30 million has already been raised through a one-time inventory tax on cigarettes). The Vikings have agreed to pay the remainder.

Mann has specifically argued that the use of city funds to pay for a state-incurred debt is unconstitutional. Mann and the two other plaintiffs argue the stadium financing deal circumvented a Minneapolis charter provision that would have prompted a citywide vote, MPR News notes. But stadium planners say the bonds have already survived similar legal challenges.

The game clock is running: To keep the project on schedule, authority officials have said they need $17 million from bond proceeds by Jan. 23 and another $8 million the next day for land purchases, the Pioneer Press notes.

The high court is expected to set a hearing or issue a judgment "in short order," MPR reports.

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