House expected to take up alcohol rules at U of M stadiumby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — This week the Minnesota House of Representatives is expected to take up legislation that would allow the University of Minnesota to serve alcohol in premium seats and private suites at its football stadium.
Last year, state legislators passed a law that forced the university to either serve alcohol throughout the entire stadium, or not at all.
Some want that law overturned so the university can decide where drinks should be served, but the move faces opposition.
University of Minnesota officials were behind last year's push to allow the school to serve alcohol only in expensive, skybox-style suites at the new 50,000 seat TCF Bank football stadium.
But president Robert Bruininks says this time around they're not involved.
"I don't know what will happen, but we'll just wait and see. We have no official position, we're not lobbying for anything, and we're not supporting any particular proposal at this time," Bruininks said.
However, a lobbying group called "Friends of Gopher Sports" has taken up the cause this year.
Head lobbyist, Jim Erickson, won't say exactly who's involved in the group or how much money they've raised. That information will be public at the end of the year when lobbyist groups are required to report their funding.
Erickson does say the group was started by alumni, business leaders and other Gopher sports boosters who want to see alcohol sold in exclusive areas of the stadium.
Erickson says the law passed last year requiring the university to serve booze throughout the entire stadium, or not at all, was a mistake that cost the school money.
"Let the regents of the university set university policy. Let this money flow to the athletic department because it needs it," Erickson said.
Without the ability to serve beer and wine in $45,0000-a-season suites and $3,000-a-year club seats, the university had to offer discounts for the spots.
University officials estimate they missed out on $1.3 million dollars in revenue in the stadium's first year.
The state Senate recently passed a measure allowing the university to sell alcohol only in premium seats. It would also require revenue from sales be used to pump up scholarships and reduce student fees.
Now DFL Rep. Tom Rukavina expects the issue will come up in the House of Representatives this week.
Rukavina was behind last year's effort to force the university to sell alcohol throughout the entire stadium. It was his response to the university's plan, which he still sees as elitist.
"And I don't think the public appreciates that attitude and I certainly don't think the House of Representatives does," he said.
Since state money funded more than half of the TCF Bank Stadium, Rukavina says it's not fair that only fans who can afford the most expensive seats get to buy a drink during a game.
University officials say they only want to serve alcohol in tightly controlled areas. They say no other Big 10 school serves alcohol throughout an entire stadium with thousands of student fans, many of whom are underage.
"We're adult and we should be treated like adults," Rukavina said. "Everybody can go drink at a Twins game, why not here?"
University of Minnesota student Meggie Marrier wrote in support of stadium wide alcohol sales in a recent editorial in the university's student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily.
The 21-year-old public relations major says the profits could be used to lower student fees.
"Plus it'll generate a lot of revenue for the school. With everyone talking about budget cuts and furloughs it just seems one of many solutions to the problem," Marrier said.
Bruininks says if the legislature overturns last year's law, and the university is given the go ahead to serve alcohol only in premium seats, he'll ask the Board of Regents to revisit the issue.
Other than that, Bruininks says the university's stand on where alcohol can be served in its football stadium isn't likely to change.
"I have very serious doubts that the regents will ever at the University of Minnesota pass an alcohol-throughout-the-stadium initiative," Bruininks said.
Whether or not beer sales are ever allowed anywhere in the football stadium, it's still not hard for fans to get a gameday drink.
Alcohol is permitted in tailgating areas right outside the stadium. And there are several bars within walking distance just off campus.
- Morning Edition, 05/03/2010, 6:50 a.m.