House passes stadium bill

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After a dreadful 3-13 record on the field in 2011, the Minnesota Vikings received some good off-field news well before the 2012 team begins to practice.

The House voted 73-58 to support a $975 million stadium plan that would provide a new facility to house the team. Forty DFL members and 33 Republicans voted yes. Thirty-seven Republicans and 21 DFLers voted against the bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead), HF1485 now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) is the sponsor. If approved as is by the Senate, the bill would go to the governor. However, it is more likely a conference committee would be needed to work out the difference between the House and Senate bills.

Gov. Mark Dayton expressed joy at the outcome, but noted three more positive votes must happen before he can sign a bill. “Our work is not done,” he said.

Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) and Rep. Doug Wardlow (R-Eagan) were among those who called the bill a case of misplaced priorities.

“If we’re going to raise money or taxes of any sort, why doesn’t it go to education or health care or the other things that have been cut or that we owe money to,” Greiling said. “I don’t understand the priority tonight of voting for a stadium that a lot of people will not even be able to afford tickets to go to.”

But some supporters, including Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) and Rep. Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph), spoke of the how the Vikings are a significant state asset and could leave without a new facility. Others noted how much the state is focused on the team’s exploits each Sunday throughout the fall.

”I can’t imagine a state without the Vikings,” Hosch said.

“We were elected to be leaders and make tough decisions,” added Rep. John Kriesel (R-Cottage Grove). “This is your chance to prove you don’t want the Vikings to leave.”

As proposed, the 65,000-seat “People’s Stadium” would be built on the eastern edge of downtown Minneapolis, in part, on the current Metrodome site. The team is expected to begin play at the new stadium in 2016.

Before being amended, the bill called for a team contribution of $427 million and $398 would come from the state by authorizing charitable groups to offer tipboards and electronic forms of pull-tabs and bingo. In addition to tax relief, supporters say excess money raised from gambling should be enough to pay off the state bonds needed for the stadium. Minneapolis would kick in $150 million to the project by extending until 2047 and redirecting sales taxes used to pay off construction bonds for the city’s convention center to the stadium once the convention center bonds are paid off in 2020. The sales tax money comes from hospitality taxes collected from hotels, bars and restaurants.

An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) would lower the state share by $105 million and up the team contribution by that much. It would also let the public share in naming rights revenue. Lanning said he understands trying to get a larger team contribution, but “if we squeeze too hard we could kill the deal.”

Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) said the amendment — passed 97-31 — makes the bill more palatable to members who think the team should pay more.

However, Lester Bagley, the team’s vice president of public affairs and stadium development, called the $105 million increase “not workable.”

Unsuccessfully offered by Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester) was an amendment to fund the state share through a nearly 10 percent user fee on things like tickets, concessions and parking at the stadium, rather than expanded gambling revenue. It failed 74-57.

Among those voting no was Rep. Lyndon Carlson Sr. (DFL-Crystal), who expressed concern about the social costs of gambling. “If somebody gambles and comes to addiction, that’s their own fault. I’m not going to feel guilty about it,” countered Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center).

Other amendments added to the bill include:

  • requiring a 40-year lease for the Vikings to play in the stadium;
  • requiring the team to contribute 25 percent of a sale price to pay down remaining debt service if the team is sold within the first 10 years, declining to 15 percent after 10 years and declining 1 percent each year thereafter;
  • taking the state off the hook for operating cost overruns and putting that responsibility on the team;
  • requesting the legislative auditor to conduct an evaluation of increased lawful gambling in Minnesota in two years and at other times over a 20-year period with reports due at four-year intervals after the initial two years; and
  • requiring the stadium authority ”to contract with an employment assistance firm, preferably minority-owned, or owned by a disabled individual or a woman, to create an employment program to recruit, hire, and retain minorities for the stadium facility.”