After years of wrangling, new Vikings stadium nearly a reality

Minnesota Vikings fans
Minnesota Vikings fans, including Larry Spooner, right, in baseball cap, and David Gunderson, upper right, with face paint, celebrate after the Minnesota Senate voted to approve a new Vikings football stadium, Thursday afternoon, May 10, 2012.
AP Photo/The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Chris Polydoroff

Today's passage of a Vikings stadium bill on the final day of the 2012 session was the result of "true bipartisan effort," says DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

The decade-long debate over a new, publicly subsidized Vikings stadium reached a conclusion Thursday, along with this year's legislative session, at the State Capitol. The Senate passed final legislation to build a $975 million stadium in Minneapolis by a vote of 36-30. The bill now goes to Dayton for his signature.

Dayton praised state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle during a news conference today, just a few hours after the Senate passed the final bill. The House took action during an early morning session.

Dayton also praised Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf for increasing the team's share in the final stadium deal.

"The truth is, it's not a good deal for the state of Minnesota."

"Last night, when we came up $50 million short, the Wilfs stepped in, in just a heroic way," Dayton said. "And without their willingness to take that last step, we wouldn't have crossed the goal line."

Zygi Wilf thanked Dayton, legislators and Vikings fans for their roles in helping pass the stadium bill. Wilf said the new stadium will benefit Minnesotans and the team, and ensures the team will remain in Minnesota.

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"The passage of this bill also provides long-term stability for this franchise. And as owners of Vikings, our goal has always been to resolve the stadium issue in Minnesota, and ensure the team stays where it belongs, in Minnesota," Wilf said. "Today's vote makes that a reality."

The final bill allows the option of a retractable roof, if the team pays for it. The Wilf family is also granted an exclusive window to bring in a major league soccer team. Wilf declined to comment on either provision.

Although the governor has said he will sign the bill, the measure still requires approval from the Minneapolis City Council. Mayor R.T. Rybak is confident of the council's support. The council must vote on the bill within 30 days.

Senate stadium opponents appeared resigned to the bill's ultimate passage, but they weren't going to make the last vote an easy one. The Senate debate lasted three hours. Under the final deal, the Vikings pay $477 million, the state pays $348 million and the city of Minneapolis pays $150 million.

The state share is financed by charitable gambling revenue, with newly authorized electronic pull-tabs. Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said he wants to build a stadium, but he thinks the cost is too high under this bill.

"We've got money in the bill for gambling addiction. So, we know we're going to devastate some families. We know there are going to families who are going to lose their house, probably their marriages, their cars, their livelihoods so we can enjoy football," Howe said.

Opponents also continued to question the reliability of that projected revenue stream. Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said she thinks the stadium will end up being a burden on state finances. Ortman urged her colleagues to recognize the true impact of the bill.

"This is a good deal for the Vikings," Ortman said. "It's a great deal for the fans, the NFL. Good deal for the governor, good deal for labor, good deal for big business. But the truth is, it's not a good deal for the state of Minnesota."

There were also pointed questions about the closed-door process that resulted in the final version of the bill. House and Senate negotiators met privately with Vikings officials throughout the day Wednesday. They then held a public meeting at midnight to approve completed conference committee report.

BACKERS DEFEND BILL

Stadium supporters defended the process, and the final bill. Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said he's been hearing about the stadium since he was first elected 10 years ago. Michel said he was amazed anyone would describe it as a rushed process.

"We have introduced over 3,000 bills this session," Michel said. "I would submit there's not another bill that has had more testimony, more input, more vetting, more committee hearings, more media coverage, more transparency than the bill and the product that is before you now."

In those final negotiations, the Vikings agreed to increase the team contribution by $50 million, which lowered the state share. DFL Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm said he liked that change a lot. But Tomassoni said the best thing about the stadium bill is that it will result in thousands of jobs.

"There's going to be upwards of 7,500 construction jobs created as a result of this bill," Tomassoni said. "And after the place is built, there's going to be thousands of hospitality jobs that will continue to be good-paying jobs for a real long time, as long as that building is being utilized."

Following the vote, the chief author of the bill said she was pleased but exhausted. Republican Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont described the final passage of the bill as a monumental event.

"It is a perfect example for the people of the state to know that the process does work, and it works in a very bipartisan manner," Rosen said. "We listened and we got a project done. It wasn't pretty at times, but it worked."

"IT SECURES THE FRANCHISE"

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley gave credit to the fans for helping convince lawmakers to pass the bill. Bagley said the new stadium will have a big impact on the team.

"It secures the franchise," Bagley said. "It stabilizes the franchise, and really gets us into where we need to be, which is competitive in a very, very competitive business."

The state's chief stadium cheerleader, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, remained quiet through the final House and Senate votes. But he has scheduled a news conference later this evening with the bill sponsors, Minneapolis officials and the owners of the Vikings.