Vikings Look For New Legislative Stadium Attempt

By Andrew Tellijohn

Last year’s Hail Mary fell incomplete as time ran out on the Minnesota Vikings and their push for a new stadium.

But the team may be granted an overtime period in the 2011 Minnesota Legislature.

Lawmakers insist that they will not finance a Vikings stadium from the general fund, fueled by state taxes, nor will they lose their primary focus on putting citizens back to work or balancing the budget.

However, there appears to be interest from Democrat and Republican lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton in discussing options that could result in the Vikings getting a new stadium.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, are among the most visible lawmakers planning to introduce a bill that will take another stab at finding a financing answer suitable for both the team and the state before the football Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome ends after next season.

“It’s a hot topic of conversation,” Lanning said. “The first order of business is our budget. … I think leadership understands that later in the session the issue of a stadium will be one that needs to be addressed.”

Rosen admitted she may have jumped the gun with her original goal of having a bill ready by the first week of February. But discussions could be coming sooner rather than later.

Ted Mondale, recently appointed chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, said that Gov. Mark Dayton would like to jump start the stadium discussion soon.

Dayton “wants to make sure that whatever comes to him for his support is what he calls a ‘people’s stadium,’ which I would say would not be looked at as a public subsidy in that the benefits to the public would be greater than the amount of tax dollars that go into it,” Mondale said.

Several lawmakers have pledged open-mindedness to other ideas ranging from expanding gambling to instituting sports memorabilia or hospitality taxes, similar to those discussed last year.

While the budget remains their top priority, many lawmakers said there is no reason the Vikings’ issue can’t be debated simultaneously.

“We have to try to make something work,” said Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Marquart is open to a tax on tickets or memorabilia, to a local sales tax such as was done for the Minnesota Twins’ stadium, to foregoing sales tax on construction materials and to other ideas.

Opponents to addressing the issue remain

“The NFL is having a collective bargaining fight right now,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. “Until they get that straightened out I can’t imagine us taking any action. … Until we know their cost structure, it would be very difficult for us to do anything.”

Perhaps the most polarizing option under discussion is to expand gambling to fund a stadium.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he would like to see a partnership emerge between the state and an American Indian community. The Prairie Island Indian Community, for example, “would be good common sense folks we hopefully can work with to find a solution,” McNamara said. “They’ve done great things.”

Other lawmakers find the prospects of using gambling expansion for a stadium distasteful.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said he is opposed to gambling expansion in general, but if it is going to happen, the proceeds should be used to balance the budget.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, was a proponent of Vikings stadium talks during the 2010 session and he remains open to considering several financial options, but not gambling.

“I think gaming creates a lot of other problems in society,” he said.

He said he believes Republican leaders in the House and Senate have to get behind the issue if a solution is to be found and he indicated that the business community, through the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership, must get on board as well.

David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said the business community supports, in principle, finding a way to keep the Vikings. He said before the chamber and the state can commit to a financing source, they need to know what local jurisdiction the team plans to partner with and how much money that will provide for the project.

“We’re not there yet,” he said.

Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development, said the team is in discussions with a number of parties. Both Olson and Bagley said they like Dayton’s selection of Mondale as chair of the commission.

“Ted understands this issue,” Olson said. “Ted’s good at this stuff.”

Lanning insisted that while he and fellow greater Minnesota Rosen are among the most visible proponents of negotiating a deal, there are urban and suburban lawmakers involved in informal discussions as well. One is Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, who said he is open to a number of options outside of the general fund.

“Having the Vikings is a good thing,” Hoppe said. “We just don’t know how to pay for it.”

Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said lawmakers can’t wait too long to get started on discussions or they will run out of time like they did in 2010.

“We’re not going to let the Vikings leave,” Saxhaug said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to build a stadium without general fund money.”

He cited the Minnesota North Stars, a hockey team that moved to Dallas in 1993, as the example for why it is important to act now. Replacing the team with another National Hockey League team took years and cost multiple times what it would have to keep the North Stars in the first place, he said.

“Why would we let that happen again?” Saxhaug said.

Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said he has in the past proposed providing funding for athletic venues in exchange for community ownership of the teams in question. National Football League rules prevent such an ownership structure now, but Eken indicated that he would be open-minded to considering other forms of financing.

“The Vikings stadium is something I’ll consider when the time comes,” he said.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, does not have a specific plan in mind and he is not sure what a deal will look like, but he’s optimistic something will get done.

When asked if he had a timeframe for when the Legislature would arrive at that solution, the member of the House GOP leadership team smiled and said no, but reaffirmed: “I’m optimistic that something will take place.”

Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo, said he is willing to consider possible financing options for the Vikings. He said the state should first be well on its way to a framework for a budget solution before considering the Vikings’ issue at length.

Lillie also said the Vikings have to answer some questions regarding who the team’s local partner will be.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said he’s not a member of the group of lawmakers working toward a deal, but added that something has to happen because he cannot imagine the Vikings playing in some other city.

He indicated that the team’s ownership has to put enough of a contribution toward the stadium – perhaps between one-third and one-half the cost – to create goodwill with the public.

“That changes the equation,” Stumpf said. “If it’s one-third, that makes the possibilities of funding it a lot easier.”

Metrodome facts

History: The Metrodome has hosted more than 85 million visitors since opening in 1982.

Cost: The Metrodome cost $55 million, excluding related infrastructure such as streets. A Twin Cities (later Minneapolis only) hospitality tax funded construction. The building has not received public subsidy since 1984. A new stadium’s cost could approach $1 billion.

Roof status: The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission still is testing samples of the roof to determine the scope of the necessary repairs after snow collapsed it. The plan is to restore the building.

Why rebuild: Because the commission is legally obligated to provide a place for the Vikings to play through next season and because the building hosts more than 300 community events each year above and beyond professional football.

Ted Mondale’s role as facilities commission chairman: Articulating the position of Gov. Mary Dayton, who campaigned on being supportive of efforts for a new stadium. Mondale said Dayton’s main concern is that the benefits generated by a new building exceed any support the state provides in building it.

Metrodome’s viability if the Vikings get new stadium or leave: Many say the building would quickly lose its ability to draw cash and remain open.

Source: Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission