Senate committee approves stadium plan

Stadium concept
The Minnesota Vikings released this concept of a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, April, 2, 2012. This concept depicts the downtown skyline and events surrounding Vikings game days.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee topped off a day of wheeling and dealing on a new Vikings stadium by approving the plan Tuesday afternoon.

The committee approved the deal to build a new $975 million stadium in Minneapolis. It puts a new stadium just a step away from a vote by the Senate.

The state would pay about $400 million for it, raising most of the money with new electronic gambling.

Bill sponsor Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said she thinks the decade-long drive for a stadium deal could be wrapped up over the weekend.

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"I think we got the bill in shape, as it should be," Rosen said. "There's a few things that we'll probably need to adjust, but its moving along quite well, and I'm very, very happy with the vote."


Those "adjustments" come after a last-minute border battle between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Rosen restored language to the bill allowing Minneapolis to fund a rehab project for Target Center with some of the money from the downtown sales taxes that fund the city's $150 million share of the deal.

That drew an objection in person from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. He said Minneapolis has had a "great deal" of state investment that has allowed it to build facilities like the Minneapolis Convention Center and the Metrodome.

"St. Paul has gone it alone without that revenue. Even the state loan for the Xcel Energy Center is repaid by the city of St. Paul and the Minnesota Wild," Coleman said. "There's no equity and no comparison to what the investment on the part of the state has been in the city of St. Paul."

DFL Sen. Jim Metzen, of South St. Paul, said he was going to rectify that. He offered an amendment that would write off more than $30 million in city debt to the state on the Xcel Energy Center.

He also offered St. Paul an additional $43 million out of the stadium bill to pay off city debt from the RiverCenter convention center.

The amendment kicked off a barbed debate between lawmakers from the two cities.

Sen. Ken Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, said it wasn't his city that had the financial leg up.

"St. Paul has an advantage in that you don't have as high as hospitality taxes in your downtown region as we do in Minneapolis," Kelash said. "Our businesses are paying for the convention center and for the downtown amenities or whatever based on that tax collection."

Kelash also suggested the state's help in bringing an NHL franchise to St. Paul was part of why Minneapolis's Target Center is in such tough financial shape.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak tried to intervene.

"We will not succeed by dividing folks," Rybak said. "I really encourage everyone, not only on both sides of the river, but all sides of the state, to not set off a city war at a point of time in which we've got to get something done."


But the committee approved the money for St. Paul and left it in the bill as it headed for its next stop, the Senate Finance Committee.

Rosen, who has carried the Vikings bill for the last two years, said the extra money was a deal breaker.

"I do believe there is some room to negotiate. But $43 million is not doable," Rosen said.

The committee vote is a remarkable turnaround for a stadium plan that was all but dead just a week ago, when a House committee voted it down.

But DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said Democrats in the Senate concluded the stadium was worth saving in the Local Government and Elections Committee.

"We decided we'd put up enough votes, one additional vote to move it out of Sen. [Ray] Vandeveer's committee and put it on its way," Bakk said.

The show of bi-partisan support has been followed by a blitz of pressure from the Vikings. The team brought NFL officials to the Capitol, and warn the team might leave. Republican Sen. Al DeKruif of Madison Lake told the Vikings that fans have also kept the pressure up.

"You've mentioned that you have about 3 million fans, and they've been rallying, because I think I've heard from them, via email, maybe half of them in the last day and a half," he said.

The Finance Committee will be the last stop for the bill in the Senate. It's also now awaiting a vote in the House.