Senate eyes user fees for Vikings stadium
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Senate pushed more Vikings stadium financing costs in the direction of the team and fans Tuesday as supporters grasped for extra votes to keep the proposal alive.
Ahead of a critical vote on the nearly $1 billion facility, senators revamped a longstanding stadium plan to impose a collection of user fees while also increasing the upfront private contribution by $25 million.
Passage by the Senate would set up final negotiations and precede a new round of votes by the Legislature. The House approved a bill Monday that requires the team to kick in $532 million toward the stadium — $105 million above what a franchise official previously called a “set in stone” ceiling.
It was clear stadium supporters wanted to turn to offense rather than defense as the bill reached the Senate. It was Sen. Julie Rosen, the stadium bill sponsor, who promoted user fees on suites, parking and Vikings merchandise. Another backer pushed for the higher team contribution, and that amendment was approved unanimously.
The user fee amendment — adopted on a 40-26 vote — would levy a 10 percent fee on suites and on parking within a half-mile of the stadium, and impose a 6.875 percent fee on Vikings clothing, trading cards and other memorabilia.
Throughout a debate that stretched from early afternoon past nightfall, there were plenty of close calls. Senators twice approved amendments they overturned later. One would have imposed a more aggressive slate of user fees that could cut into Vikings profits and a second would have subjected portions of the bill to a potential Minneapolis voter referendum.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said the deal to date has been negotiated by people too willing to please the team.
“When stadium proponents are putting things on that make the deal less appealing to the Vikings, you wonder if it’s been put on just for the purpose of attracting votes and then getting pulled out in conference committee,” said Thompson, the leader of the conservative faction within the Senate GOP caucus. “But I guess time will tell.”
Earlier Tuesday, a Vikings executive warned state lawmakers against making major changes to the financing proposal, saying they risked losing the team’s support for the deal. Vice President Lester Bagley criticized changes made by the House when it passed the bill Monday, particularly a provision that shifted more cost from the state to the team.
“People who are opposed to this are going to do all they can to muck this up,” Bagley said in an interview on ESPN 1500 radio, speaking generally about amendments added to the bill.
Bagley pointed to a bill for a new Twins ballpark that cleared the Legislature in 2002, only to fall apart later. It took the team another four years to win legislative support for a workable bill.
Bagley didn’t immediately return a call from The Associated Press.
Though the Vikings have misgivings about the changes the House made to the bill, its approval Monday marked the team’s first victory in its years-long quest for a new stadium. Bagley called it “the first hurdle” in a process.
Bagley said the team’s owners aren’t prepared to shell out $105 million more beyond a prior $427 million private commitment toward construction of the stadium. Under a plan negotiated last winter by the governor, key lawmakers, the Minneapolis mayor and the team, the state would pay $398 million, with the money coming from an expansion of gambling. The city of Minneapolis would kick in $150 million by redirecting an existing hospitality tax.
But lawmakers will have the final say on how big a taxpayer subsidy is provided.
The Vikings are no longer under a Metrodome lease, leaving some to worry they could bolt if they don’t have a new stadium after next season.
“We don’t want the Vikings to leave,” said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina. “We want to take the wheels off this franchise and keep them for our children and grandchildren. I don’t want to cheer for the Green Bay Packers. I don’t want to cheer for the Chicago Bears. We need an NFL franchise in Minnesota. This is the bill. This is the day.”
Opponents weren’t buying the threat of team flight.
“I want to know where the Vikings are going if they leave,” said Democratic Sen. Barb Goodwin of Columbia Heights.
She added, “I think we’re scaring a lot of people for no good reason.”