Final stadium deal nears final votes

Rep. Kent Eken in Capitol

The final Minnesota Legislature votes to build a Vikings stadium are coming after a decade of discussions.

Private meetings throughout Wednesday yielded a compromise between plans the House and Senate approved earlier in the week.

The Vikings are to pay $477 million toward construction costs, $50 million more than they wanted. The $975 million Minneapolis stadium, on the site of the Metrodome, would have 65,000 seats, expandable to 72,000.

A House vote was expected late early Thursday, with a Senate vote following later Thursday if the House approves the plan.

Most of the state’s portion of stadium construction costs would come from taxes collected on new charitable gambling profits after electronic devices are added to pulltab and bingo games. The state would pay $348 million and Minneapolis $150 million.

The Vikings offered no immediate comment Wednesday night, but team Vice President Lester Bagley long has said the Vikings would not pay more than $427 million.

The public stadium authority would be responsible for any construct cost overruns as well as unexpected operating costs.

The compromise bill requires that amateur sports, community, and civic events, and other public events have access to the stadium, much like the three-decade-old Metrodome.

The Vikings would have exclusive right to own a professional soccer team for the first five years the stadium is in operation.

Using charitable gambling taxes to finance the stadium was one of the most controversial parts of the plan. While the Senate inserted some user fees to supplement the gambling, legislators rejected attempts to switch to all user fee funding.

The compromise bill allows electronic pulltabs and bingo games, as well as tipboards, which is a gambling game based on scores but not the outcomes of sports contests.

Supporters say the gambling would provide enough money to repay the state’s construction costs, although many lawmakers oppose that part of the plan.

The bill provides back-up funding in case the gambling revenues fall short of the state’s needs. They include a tax on luxury boxes in the stadium, a sports-themed lottery game and other provisions.

The bill heads back to the House and Senate for final votes.

“Passing is anybody’s guess,” said Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, a member of the House-Senate conference committee that was to approve the bill Wednesday night.

The bill is a compromise, he added. “It is in keeping with substantially the bills in the House and Senate.”

Another committee member said public reaction is very strong in favor of a stadium.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said his emails run 10 to one in favor of a stadium. He gets 250 to 300 of them a day.

The conference committee was delayed Wednesday night. House bill author Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said technical corrections needed to be made to the bill.

The final compromise was worked out in meetings that took all day Wednesday. Joining bill authors Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, were legislative leaders, other stadium backers, Vikings officials, business leaders, Gov. Mark Dayton aides and others.

The secret meetings drew flak from several legislators.

The Senate approved the original bill 38-28 late Tuesday after about 11 hours of debate. The House moved it forward 73-58 Monday following eight and a half hours of discussion.

Most of the earlier debate centered on amendments lawmakers offered to change the bills, but once a conference committee approves a bill it cannot be amended. Only a yes or no vote is allowed.

The $975 million stadium construction proposal is the last major issue of the 2012 legislative session. If it passes, the Legislature is expected to adjourn for the year, followed by a large number of legislators giving retirement speeches.

The final votes could draw to an end a decade-long saga to build a Vikings stadium. The National Football League team has wanted a new facility that long, saying the Metrodome no longer can produce enough revenue, but the Twins baseball team and University of Minnesota football team took legislative priority for new sports venues.

While the stadium is known as a Vikings stadium, Lanning said the team would use it only a few days a year. Concerts, national sports events, high school games, monster truck rallies and other events would fill the stadium most of the time.

The stadium would be owned by the state and run by a public authority. However, host Minneapolis and the Vikings would pay operating costs.

The bill originally would have required the state to pay $398 million, the Vikings $427 million and Minneapolis $150 million.

Bills the two bodies passed were similar, but had differences.

One major difference was the House required the Vikings to increase their previously promised $427 million contribution limit by $105 million. The Senate sought $25 million more.

In both cases, those amounts would reduce the state portion.

If the bill passes overnight, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, suggested that his members could vote to go home for the year before Thursday.

“We only have a few things to do,” Dean said, primarily take a final stadium vote.

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