Stadium talk is in favor again at Capitol

The proposed stadium
An artist's sketch of the proposed on-campus Gophers stadium.
Sketch Courtesy of the University of Minnesota

It seems like the Gophers, the Vikings and the Twins can't get out of the Metrodome fast enough and state lawmakers are at least willing to help them with their exit strategy.

This week committees in the House and Senate have considered legislation that gives the go-ahead for each of the three proposed new stadiums. The speaker of the House says he expects the Republican-controlled House to pass the Gopher bill, but not without some sharp criticism from both sides of the aisle.

A hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday provided a preview of some of the criticism of the university plan will likely face.

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 panel approved the bill, but critics questioned the cost to the state -- a proposed land swap and whether a new stadium is necessary.

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Committee Chairman Jim Knoblach says he doesn't like receiving the land in Rosemount in exchange for a higher state contribution. Under the deal, the U would give the state 2,800 acres of land in Dakota County.

Before the proposal included the land deal, the university wanted $7 million a year from the state for the stadium. With the deal, the state is on the hook for $9 million a year.

Knoblach, a St. Cloud Republican who is running for Congress in the 6th District, says he doesn't think the swap is a good deal, especially since the U of M would still have rights to the property.

"I have bought and sold and developed lots of land," Knoblach says. "But I have never seen a case where you sell the land (and) the people who were the old owners of the land can still use the land just as they were using it before."

Knoblach wanted to go back to the original plan that involves higher student fees but a lower annual payment from the state. Knoblach withdrew his amendment in committee, but said he'd propose it again during a debate by the full House.

The total cost of the U of M stadium is $249 million. U of M officials say half of that cost will be raised from private donors, student fees and other sources. The rest would come from the state over 25 years. The Gopher proposal is the easiest for lawmakers to swallow. It benefits the state's flagship university,it doesn't require a tax increase and the team can't threaten to move like its professional counterparts.

But DFL Rep. Michael Paymar of St. Paul says he's worried that other important issuesare suffering because of all the time lawmakers ARE spending on three different stadium bills.

"At what cost? I just think that something is wrong with out priorities and as much as I would like to see this happen, it's rubbing me the wrong way and I don't think I can support it," Paymar said on Wednesday.

While Paymar and other House members are facing the stadium legislation with some reluctance, the Minnesota Senate is moving full steam ahead on all three bills. The Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee approved bills this week that would fund new stadiums for both the Vikings and Twins.

The Vikings proposal is a mix of a new sales tax in Anoka County, a contribution from the team and a measure that would dedicate sales tax money from the site toward construction of a retractable roof and road improvements. The total cost is $790 million.

The Twins plan relies on a new sales tax in Hennepin County and a contribution from the owner. The Twins stadium has a pricetag of about $500 million. Both teams are asking state lawmakers to prevent voters having a say on the local sales taxes, as required in state law.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf says he's also lobbying the Senate to pass all three bills at once. Wilf says some senators are listening to his advice.

"We certainly got an indication from many of the senators that they would like to get all three done. How they do it if it's one bill or separate bills, I don't know, but we definitely got the indication that they want to get all three done," Wilf said.

Several senators and Senate staffers say it's possible that all three stadium bills could be combined into one bill with a pricetag of $1.5 billion.

DFL Sen. Jim Vickerman of Tracy said it's time to end the debate and pass all three this session.

"I would hope that we can do all three of them, get it over with and get on to other things that we need to do. I'm in support of all three of them," he said.

But House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he prefers to take each measure one at a time. He warned that his colleagues may look dimly on any bill that includes a Vikings, a Twins and a Gophers stadium.

"I feel very strongly that these should not be piled onto each other," he said. "I feel very strongly it shouldn't be put into a garbage stadium, stadia, stadiums bill -- or whatever the plural is. I think that's disrespectful of the process."

Sviggum says he'd prefer to see the House address the Gophers needs first, then the Twins and if time permits, the Vikings.