The Minnesota Vikings faced opposition as tough as any they see on the football field Monday night when a House committee examined their proposal to build a new stadium.
The House Government Operations Committee grilled the Vikings and other stadium supporters late into the night. No vote had come early in the evening, but during the bill’s fourth legislative committee hearing it became obvious the National Football League team faces fourth down and long if a stadium can be approved in the waning days of the 2012 legislative session.
Rep. Ryan Winkler said Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley “does a very good job of skating around the issues” of whether the team would leave Minnesota without a new stadium and how much more the team would be worth with a new stadium.
Winkler, a Bemidji native and now a Golden Valley Democrat, told the Vikings they were forcing legislators to negotiate a deal without knowing if state money is used well.
Vikings Vice President Steve Poppen and Ted Mondale of the Sports Facilities Commission said the deal is good for the state, but offered no proof.
Poppen said the team is $40 million behind average league revenues.
“The Vikings are not cash-flow positive as we currently stand,” Poppen said.
During debate on the $975 million stadium construction proposal, committee members considered more than a dozen proposed changes to a bill by Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, providing $398 million in state funds.
The team and other private sources would contribute $427 million, with Minneapolis chipping in $150 million.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, fired Minnesota’s most asked question: “Why should the state of Minnesota contribute to a stadium for a billionaire who could pay for it himself?”
Bagley responded by saying the stadium would be owned by the public, not the team owning Wilf family.
Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said other teams have done well in privately owned stadiums.
Bagley said $13 million the Vikings pledge to pay toward operation annually would be the largest “rent payment” in the league.
The bill passed one House committee on a voice vote and a second committee gave Lanning permission to continue moving his bill despite missing a House deadline.
A similar bill is stalled in a Senate committee, but supporters Monday were looking for ways to move the proposal into a friendlier committee and hoped for a hearing this week. Quick action is important because Republicans who control the Legislature hope for an April 30 or earlier adjournment for the year.
Business leaders testified they support a new stadium, but in answer to questions they would not commit to helping finance construction.
Bagley said the Metrodome, Vikings’ home for three decades, “will not sustain an NFL team.”
The new stadium would go on the eastern part of the Metrodome site, and the dome would need to be torn down during the last year of a three-year construction phase. During that year, the Vikings would play at the University of Minnesota.
A stadium would host the Vikings for about 10 games a year, and be available for other activities like the Metrodome is.
Mondale said that without the Vikings — and he said they would leave if no stadium is built — the Metrodome could last a year after the team leaves.
The proposed stadium would be 1.5 square feet, compared to 900,000 in the Metrodome.
Lanning’s bill would provide the state’s portion of the funds by allowing charities to expand to electronic pulltabs and bingo from paper-only games they host now.
Supporters say the electronic option would attract more gamblers and increase profits for charities and taxes the state collects, enough to repay bonds the state would sell to build a stadium.
Lanning also included tip boards in his funding plan. They are games that are based on scores of contests, not on who wins.