House committee defeats stadium bill

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A “Hail Mary” pass may be about the only chance the Minnesota Vikings have left to get a stadium bill passed this session.

The House Government Operations and Elections Committee failed to approve a bill that calls for funding a new stadium that would house the NFL team. The vote was 9-6 with five DFLers and four Republicans voting against the plan. Five Republicans and one DFLer voted for the bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead), HF2810 calls a for a $975 million fixed-roof stadium to be built on the Metrodome site. The team would cover $427 million of construction costs; the state $398 million; and Minneapolis $150 million. The team has played in the downtown Minneapolis stadium since 1982, but team officials say the facility is antiquated and does not provide the needed revenue to remain competitive, nor does it offer a top-notch fan experience.

Money from electronic pull tabs, electronic bingo and tipboard games would be used to pay the state’s share of the cost.

“Somebody will have to pull a rabbit out of a hat for this thing to stay alive,” Lanning said.

After the vote, Lester Bagley, the team’s vice president of public affairs and stadium development, spoke with a frustrated tone, saying the team has done everything it’s been asked, and after more than a decade of trying there still hasn’t been a vote on the House floor. “This sends a strong message to the Vikings and the NFL,” he said without elaborating.

He refused to issue an ultimatum about the team departing the Upper Midwest. “I won’t speculate. We’ve got time and people trying to move it forward,” he said. “To have an NFL team in this market we have to address this issue.”

Lanning acknowledged that the issue isn’t going away anytime soon, and will be a constant topic during the forthcoming election season. “The only way this will go away is if we get it to the floor and vote it up or down.”

“While this may not be the perfect package yet, I think it’s worthy of continuing forward,” said Rep. Carol McFarlane (R-White Bear Lake).

Before each voted against the bill, Rep. David Hancock (R-Bemidji) expressed concern about expanding gambling in the state, while Rep. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada) noted the proposed gaming revenue going into the General Fund would better be spent paying off some of the $2.4 billion the state owes K-12 education.   

Committee Chairwoman Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), who voted “no,” successfully amended the bill to require that Minneapolis voters have a say in their city’s plan to spend $150 million for the stadium. The city charter states no more than $10 million can go toward a sports facility without voter approval. The bill would invalidate that provision.

A companion, SF2391, sponsored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont), awaits action by the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.