Vikings stadium bill moves forward as end of session loomsby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A plan to finance a new $791 million stadium for the Minnesota Vikings has cleared its first committee hurdle in the state Legislature, but not before lawmakers made significant revisions.
A House state government panel advanced the bill late Tuesday night on a 6-4 vote after removing proposed taxes on metro area hotels and car rentals, as well as a wholesale tax on sports apparel and memorabilia.
Stadium supporters introduced the bill Monday with two financing options, but now it's down to one.
DFL Rep. Loren Solberg of Grand Rapids persuaded members of a House committee to strip his bill of its tax provisions, which he said had not been well received by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The House bill is now specific for a stadium in Minneapolis, paid for by a sports-themed lottery game and an extension of taxes now being used to pay for the Minneapolis Convention Center. But Solberg said the door remains open for other cities and counties that want to partner with the Vikings.
"We don't want to shut them out and say that this is the only opportunity," Solberg said. "There has been I think some suggestions from other areas that they at least want to have a conversation, and we'll give them an opportunity to do that if they can come up with their own financing package."
Solberg and other supporters say a willing local government partner is an essential piece of the stadium puzzle. But so far, none have stepped forward.
Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden shared her concerns with committee members. Glidden said a stadium bill should have statewide financial support, or at least metro-wide.
"As it stands right now with this proposal, this is Minneapolis-only support for this facility, and we think this is not equitable," Glidden said.
Another change lawmakers made in the bill would direct a percentage of stadium money to disadvantaged students who can't afford to play high school sports.
Time is running out for lawmakers to pass a bill, as the 2010 session must end May 17. Officials with the Vikings say time is also a factor for them. Team executive Lester Bagley reminded legislators that the team's current Metrodome lease ends after the 2011 season.
"What our owners have said is they will not renew the lease without a stadium deal, and we have 20 games," Bagley said. "We have this session. We hope we can get it done this session, but we've got more time if we need it. But we need to get it done. The window of opportunity in terms of timing is this year."
Bagley repeated the Vikings' concerns about a requirement in the bill that the team sign a 40-year lease. He said no other NFL team has done that. The Vikings also want their roughly one-third financial contribution based on a less expensive open-air stadium. They want others to pay for a roof.
Opinions on the stadium issue are strong, but lawmakers heard little public testimony during the abbreviated, late-night hearing. Lawmakers met for just over an hour following a daylong floor debate on a health and human services budget bill. Republican Rep. Mark Buesgens of Jordan said he was troubled by the timing.
"This is a huge issue. This is the first time it's heard in the Legislature this year," Buesgens said. "We are hearing it when all of the media is gone, cameras are off, [and] people are in bed. It's bothersome to me. It doesn't play well with open and transparent government."
The House bill is scheduled for its second committee stop this morning. An initial hearing on the Senate version of the bill is also planned at the same hour.