U of M stadium proposal gets first legislative hearing

Bruininks testifies
University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks testifies at the capitol with Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, author of a bill to finance a campus football stadium with the sale of university land.
MPR Photo/Art Hughes

The U of M's Bruininks told the committee the new land sale proposal to partially finance the open-air campus stadium fits with the university's vision--both for athletics and the environmentally sensitive land near Rosemount.

"This seems like a very sudden proposal, but it's a proposal that's grown out of a decade of very serious study and also very serious consultation and discussions with the people who live in Dakota County and in that broader geographic area," he said

The university started the legislative session with a plan that would have required the state to pay 40 percent of a $249 million stadium. The university would pay the rest through private fundraising and a $100-per-year student fee.

Committee approval
Sen. Larry Pogemiller (background), DFL-Minneapolis, looks on as Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, chairs the Senate Higher Education Budget Committee.
MPR Photo/Art Hughes

Then, at the end of last week a new deal surfaced that would increase the state's portion, but at the end of a 25-year payment period, the Department of Natural Resources would own 2,800 acres of undeveloped land in the Vermillion River watershed. The land is part of a 7,700 acre tract the federal government donated to the university 60 years ago. The deal would also cut the proposed student fee in half.

Bruininks says university officials felt they could get the necessary votes for the stadium without the added land sale. But he says it creates an opportunity to permanently set aside ecologically important land.

"We're scaling that protection into a regional resource that I think is much more ambitious and much more extensive," Bruininks said. "I think if this is done right this could be one of the most magnificent regional park and open space areas in the entire metropolitan area."

The deal would allow the university to continue agricultural research on a little more than 100 acres even after ownership transfers to the state.

The new land sale provision encountered resistance from one senator who had supported the original original stadium plan. Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, opposes the university selling a long term asset for a relatively short term gain. He also wonders whether the it's a prudent deal if the state is paying $2 million more a year to protect land that wouldn't be developed while it's in the university's hands.

"What's the gain to the state for this increased annual contribution," he said.

University officials say the DNR could maintain public access to the property better than the university.

University athletics officials also say the on-campus stadium would create a big revenue boost. The stadium would allow concessions, rentals and other streams of money not available to university interests when the football team plays in the Metrodome. Football coach Glen Mason says the on-campus sports presence will also enliven students and other fans.

"I know no better way to bring large numbers of people back to your campus year after year after year to continually enjoy that collegiate experience that I'm so passionate about," Mason said. "In my humble opinion, not as a football coach, but as a citizen of this great state, this is not a want for us, but a need that we need very badly."

The proposal next goes to a house budget committee, and will have to clear finance committees before working its way to the floors of the Senate and House.

The same committee also forwarded a bill by Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, to restrict the university from selling naming rights to the new stadium. Pogemiller says the state should pay more to prevent the university from giving in to private interest pressures.

"What we're talking about is purchasing advertising. I personally would prefer not to do it. Again it's not a deal-breaker for me but I think we should not sell the name of the University of Minnesota football stadium for advertising. That's all," he said.

The university has raised more than $54 million in private money for the stadium. More than $30 million of that is a pledge by TCF Bank for the naming rights.

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