Vikings stadium hopes hit dead end
The Minnesota Twins are one step closer to getting a new ballpark now that the Vikings have all but lost their bid for a new stadium. Late Wednesday night at the state Capitol, members of the stadium conference committee basically agreed to pull the Vikings stadium plan off the table. The decision capped a day of public bartering and behind the scenes negotiations on stadium-related legislation.
St. Paul, Minn. — The Vikings' loss is definitely the Twins gain. Conference committee members from the House and Twins supporters have said for the last several days that the Vikings' stadium push could harm the Twins' chances of getting a ballpark built.
The House passed a Twins ballpark plan, but steadfastly resisted the Senate's effort to combine it with the Vikings' stadium proposal.
Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc. said removing the Vikings from the conference committee's negotiations gives Twins fans some confidence in the final days of the legislative session.
"There's some reason to be optimistic that they may see baseball on grass," he said. "We're closer than we've been before."
Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, who has been pushing for a two-stadium solution, said it was clear the Vikings proposal wasn't going to make it out of the committee. He said Gov. Tim Pawlenty and House Republicans have been adamantly opposed to linking the two plans together.
Kelley turned down an offer by the House to put the Vikings stadium financing plan up for a stand-alone vote in House. He said the Vikings didn't have the votes needed to pass the bill, and Kelley didn't want to send the package to a certain legislative defeat.
"There's a lot of opposition, for reasons I don't understand, to getting the Vikings Anoka County deal done this year," he said. "With that opposition, we don't want to see that hurt getting the Twins Hennepin County deal done this year."
Officials from the Vikings and Anoka County worked furiously to come up with a plan that would satisfy skeptical lawmakers. Over the past week, the team changed its offer several times. They went from a proposal that included a retractable roof stadium to an open-air stadium and then back again to a covered facility. The Vikings final proposal included an Anoka county sales tax, a contribution from the owner, a property tax break and the proceeds generated from the sale of the Metrodome to pay for the stadium.
Regardless of the Vikings haggling, House conferees wouldn't budge on their insistence that the Vikings and Twins stadium bills be separated. Rep. Neil Peterson, R-Bloomington, said keeping the two together could be fatal for both teams.
"In order to save them both we may need to disconnect because as I'm reading it, if they're connected, they both go down." he said.
The Vikings can take some solace that the Senate conferees don't want them to leave the process empty-handed. Their latest offer designates Blaine as the preferred location for a Vikings stadium and calls for the state, Anoka County and the Vikings to develop a financing agreement for a retractable roof stadium. But it isn't clear if Anoka County is up for another year of legislative negotiations.
Before the decision, Anoka County Lobbyist Dave Johnson told the committee that inflation and higher interest rates will increase the stadium's costs and decrease the county's willingness to stick with the Vikings.
"It's not entirely clear how long Anoka county can stay with this," he said. "They've been in it for two years because they were invited in. They spent substantial amounts of money because they were invited in by the state to try and be a local partner in the deal."
Now that the Vikings are out of the picture, the Twins are ever so close to getting a stadium plan through both bodies and onto the desk of a supportive Gov. Pawlenty. The Twins ballpark plan would rely on a .15 percent sales tax in Hennepin County and a $130 million contribution from the team. The tax does not include a voter referendum, something stadium opponents have insisted upon.
Rep. Brad Finstad, R-New Ulm, the chief author of the Twins bill, said he's relieved the Vikings issue is settled and the conference committee can focus on the details of a Twins ballpark.
"I think everyone here understands that the Anoka County Vikings proposal is a proposal that is good in work but they have a little bit of work to do," he said. "What this will do then is make sure we address the issue next year but ultimately what this will allow us to do is get the Twins Hennepin County proposal through."
The conference committee is expected to continue negotiating some other sticking points Thursday.
Senate conferees say they still want a smaller metro wide sales tax to pay for transportation projects. Negotiations will also continue on the financing of an on campus football stadium for the University of Minnesota. That conference committee met Wednesday night for the first time.
- Morning Edition, 05/18/2006, 7:20 a.m.