Next hurdle arrives for Minn. Vikings stadium plan

By BRIAN BAKST - Associated Press
    2012-05-08 06:39

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - After years of setbacks, the Minnesota Vikings can finally point to a major victory in the franchise quest for a new stadium. Tuesday could make it two in a row.

The Minnesota House voted 73-58 on Monday for a stadium financing proposal. In the process, lawmakers substantially raised the required private contribution toward the $975 million facility, a change Vikings' owners find troubling.

The state Senate planned to act on a competing version Tuesday. Passage there would send the bill into final negotiations and put the team closer than ever to a replacement for the aging Metrodome. The Vikings have been after a new stadium since the mid-1990s.

``It was the first hurdle, a couple more to go,'' Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said after Monday night's vote, which would be the first of four needed before a plan can reach a supportive Gov. Mark Dayton.

Bagley said the team's owners aren't prepared to shell out $105 million more - beyond a prior $427 million private commitment - toward construction of the stadium in downtown Minneapolis. But lawmakers will have the final say on how big a taxpayer subsidy is provided.

The bill passed with support of more Democrats than Republicans despite the GOP controlling that chamber. It reflects a hard push by organized labor, which promoted the Vikings stadium as a much-needed boost for the construction sector.

Dayton hailed the vote by thanking fans who have flooded lawmakers' phone lines, email inboxes and the Capitol itself to push for passage. Several stood outside the House chamber singing the team fight song after the vote.

``The voices of the people of Minnesota were heard tonight,'' Dayton said. He urged fans to keep up the pressure in the days ahead.

Toward the end of a nearly nine hour House debate, members rose one after another to defend their intention to back or oppose the bill.

Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph, made it personal. He told of being born on a Vikings Sunday, with his dad having to break away from an overtime game to ferry his mom to the hospital. Hosch said he can't fathom not having Sunday games to share with his own kids.

``It might not make sense in dollars and cents,'' Hosch said, adding, ``I can't imagine a state without the Vikings.''

Others urged their colleagues not to let nostalgia cloud their decisions on a massive public subsidy.

``Let's not build a monument to misplaced priorities,'' said Rep. Doug Wardlow, a freshman Republican.

Many who were against it raised concerns that the gambling money needed to repay bonds wouldn't materialize, putting the stadium debt in direct competition with schools, nursing homes and other valued programs.

The plan negotiated last winter by the governor, key lawmakers, the Minneapolis mayor and the team would have the Vikings cover about $427 million of the construction costs. The state would pay $398 million, with the money coming from an expansion of gambling. The city of Minneapolis would kick in $150 million by redirecting an existing hospitality tax.

The amendment raising the team's share won strong bipartisan approval, but even some supporters acknowledged that it could be softened later on. Another added amendment would give the state a bigger portion of any proceeds from a team sale once the stadium is built, a guard against an owner who could cash in on an asset expected to increase the franchise value.

A plan to pay the state's share through a gambling expansion survived an attempt to remove it when House members turned back a push to replace that money with fees on tickets, concessions and other fan purchases.

The Vikings are no longer under a Metrodome lease, leaving some to worry they would bolt without a new stadium after next season.

``This is your chance to prove you don't want the Vikings to leave,'' Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said just before the vote.

The House vote was the first test for a proposal that must also clear the Senate and likely would face House-Senate negotiations before another round of votes.

If the Twins ballpark votes are any guide, the ground beneath stadium bills can be squishy. In 2006, the ultimately successful Twins bill lost votes in between the first time the House took it up and the last; it passed the Senate by the barest majority on both votes. Several lawmakers in both chambers switched their votes - some in favor, some against - after final negotiations produced a different product, a cautionary note that Vikings supporters must consider when they merge competing plans later on.

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