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Minnesota Vikings stadium bill wins House approval

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Vikings fans rally at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Monday, May 7, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

After more than eight hours of often impassioned debate, the Minnesota House of Representatives pushed forward legislation Monday night for a $975 million Vikings stadium at the site of the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

The final tally in support of the measure was 73-58. The legislation is expected to be heard in the state Senate as soon as Tuesday.

An amendment to the bill decreased the state's contribution by $105 million and upped the Vikings' share.

Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, one of the stadium's most vocal supporters, said during the debate that the bill is the state's "one chance" to build the stadium, citing concerns that the team might otherwise move away.

Under the proposal, the $975 million in upfront costs of building the facility would be divided among the state, the city of Minneapolis and the Vikings. The new stadium would have a roof, seat 65,000 fans, and cost roughly $20.5 million a year to operate.

More Vikings stadium coverage:
• Photos: Vikings fans invade Capitol
• News Cut: Live-blogging the Senate debate
• Capitol View: See how House members voted
• Minnesota House: H.F. 1485 as amended

The legislation originally called for the Vikings to retain naming rights. But the House accepted an amendment by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, which would split naming rights between the team and state. 

Garofalo's amendment also capped contributions to the stadium from the state at $293 million. That money would be financed by a change to the existing charitable gambling law that would allow electronic pull-tabs and bingo machines.

Minneapolis, where the stadium could be built if it wins final approval, will chip-in $150 million to help build the facility, paid for with existing sales and hospitality taxes. The Vikings share from the amended bill amounts to $532 million.

THREAT OF TEAM LEAVING STATE

The debate put some lawmakers, particularly Republicans, in a tough spot. They've been torn between constituents who believe that the plan is too expensive for the state and that the expected gambling revenue will fall short, and die-hard fans and business leaders who fear the team will leave Minnesota without a new stadium.

Some opponents, like Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, opposed the use of gambling, which inordinately impacts poor people, to pay the state's way. Other opponents, like St. Cloud State University economics professor Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, said it doesn't make economic sense for the state to subsidize a monopoly business like the NFL.  

"There are other things you can do when you decide to raise money," Banaian said. "Why not a school? Why not a road? Why not a park? Why this?"

But supporters of the bill, many of whom admitted that it wasn't perfect, ultimately triumphed. Some former stadium critics, like Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, were swayed by arguments that the stadium represents an opportunity for economic development and job creation.

"If there was a way to keep the Wilfs here and pay 100 percent of the cost, we'd be for it," Morrow said in reference to the team's co-owners. "But they simply won't. It's frustrating, it's maddening for many, but it's the economic reality we face."

In an attempt to address concerns about the inconsistency of using gambling as the source of the state's contribution, the bill includes some "blink-on provisions" that would kick in if state funding sources are inadequate. Those provisions include a tax on luxury boxes, revenue from the Vikings-themed lottery game, an extension of Minneapolis Convention Center taxes, excess Hennepin County taxes from the Minnesota Twins stadium and an admissions tax.

BATTLE OVER AMENDMENTS

During the debate, House members rejected a spate of amendments, including one that would have required the NFL to hold a Super Bowl at the new stadium within three years of its opening, and another that would have required that Vikings games be shown on over-the-air television across the state. 

The House did pass an amendment by Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, that would give the state 25 percent of the sale price if the team is sold. That amount decreases 1 percent each year. The bill originally would have required that only 18 percent of the profits from the team's sale would go to the state. 

The House also made the team responsible for operating cost overruns, rather than the Minnesota Stadium Authority.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, also successfully introduced an amendment that would require that 25 percent of materials and equipment used in construction and maintenance of the stadium be produced by Minnesota businesses. 

FANS RALLY

The House vote comes on the heels of an intense, 11th-hour lobbying effort led by Dayton, the Vikings, labor groups and fans that involved rallies at the Capitol and throughout the Twin Cities. 

Throughout the first hour of the debate, chants from Vikings fans rallying in the Capitol echoed through the House chamber. 

That rankled Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, who proposed stripping out taxes on new, electronic pull tab gambling to help pay the state's share of the stadium's cost. 

He referred to the large throng of vocal Vikings fans when he said, "There's no one out there screaming for or holding banners for the thousands of families that will be impacted by the social costs to gambling. Not one. I didn't see, did any of you, anybody here see a sign saying 'Please don't build this because it'll hurt my family."

Getting fans involved has changed the tone of the debate over the long-stalled stadium, Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said before the vote. 

"It's no longer that if you're a freshman in a tough district you shouldn't vote for it, just to stay out of the fray," Bagley said. "Now it's if you're in a tough district and you're a freshman, you need to vote for it. Because everybody's pushing — let's get this done."

Still, Vikings officials watched grimly as the deal first struck in March morphed through more than eight hours of debate.

Bagley said he appreciated the bill's passage, but that the bigger team share was a problem.

"We did negotiate an agreement in good faith that had the team contributing $427 million up front and $13 million a year. That is what was negotiated over a period of months," Bagley said. "The amendment that went on that is now the House position in the bill is not workable."

Gov. Mark Dayton has called the project a "people's stadium." He supported it throughout his campaign in 2010 and his 15 months in office.  

Backed by both organized labor and the state's business community, Dayton has said building a stadium is a key element of his plan to put unemployed people back to work, and that it is part of a long-term vision to keep the state's core cities strong.

More Vikings stadium coverage:
• Photos: Vikings fans invade Capitol
• News Cut: Live-blogging the Senate debate
• Capitol View: See how House members voted
• Minnesota House: H.F. 1485 as amended