Vikings stadium approved by state lawmakers

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have all but realized their decade-long desire of getting approval for a new stadium after the Minnesota legislature approved a final bill Thursday for a $975 million replacement for the Metrodome.

After the House voted, 71-60, early Thursday morning in favor of the final stadium bill, which was worked out in a conference committee late Wednesday night, the Senate followed with approval for the bill by a 36-30 margin Thursday afternoon. After going to committee, the bill gained the acceptance of the Vikings, who were asked to increase their contribution from $427 million to $477 million, reducing the state’s portion by $50 million. The Vikings agreed to the changes and the long fight for a new stadium is essentially finished.

Groundbreaking for the new stadium will likely begin in 2013, and the Vikings hope to be fully utilizing the stadium by 2016.

“There was a lot of defeat and ups-and-downs and points in this debate where it was, ‘This might not be able to get done,’ ” said Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium management Lester Bagley. “But we got it done.”

The bill now moves to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature, and the Minneapolis City Council has 30 days to vote and agree on its contribution of $150 million. Dayton’s approval and the city council vote are considered formalities at this point. Dayton has said he will sign the legislation after working with key lawmakers to get the bill passed. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, another stadium supporter, has said the votes are there in the city council and that the council vote will likely come on May 25.

“At that point we’ll bring our case that we’ve made that thankfully has gotten seven council members to say they’ll support,” Rybak said. “The good news is, every single thing that we asked for and the council members said they’d support, we got. In addition, we got a couple of other things that we didn’t expect. So this is an even better deal than the one that we asked the state for, and I think people understand it will be an even better deal.”

Now the state and the Vikings are two steps away from keeping the team in Minnesota for at least 30 more years.

“We finally took a really hard look at what’s best for the state,” Sen. Julie Rosen, one of the bill’s authors, said after the Senate vote. “We don’t talk about that as much as we should. What’s in the best interest of the state? For the Vikings to leave and the air to come out of this entire state because the Vikings are gone? I don’t think so.

“Some people might think that was a hard vote. To me, that was an easy vote. For me, it was a reaffirmation of my commitment to the state.”

A conference committee reconciled the difference between two bills that had gained approval in the House and Senate in separate votes on Monday and Tuesday. The biggest sticking point appeared to be the Vikings’ portion of the up-front costs. In the original deal between the team, key lawmakers and Dayton, the Vikings agreed to a $427 million contribution and an average of $13 million in annual operating costs.

But the House bill agreed to Monday said the team would have to increase its share by $105 million. The Senate’s version included a $25 million increase. Meanwhile, the Vikings were saying their contribution was “set in stone,” and Bagley called the House proposal “unworkable.”

But once the conference committee settled on the $477 million Vikings portion — 49 percent of the total cost — and agreed to give the team naming rights, Bagley said the Vikings would increase their offer and agreed to the reworked bill.

In the revised and final bill, the state is responsible for $348 million. Minneapolis’ portion of $150 million will come from an existing hospitality tax. In the bill, the Vikings agree to sign a 30-year lease at the fixed-roof stadium slated to be built on the current Metrodome site. The bill allows the option for a retractable roof, but the Vikings would be responsible for the cost.

Bagley said the team hasn’t decided if it would pursue a retractable roof.

In the revised bill, the state’s portion comes from expanded gambling, including the selling of electronic pull tabs. Through a public authority, the state also retains the rights to the stadium on nongame days, when it could be used for high school sporting events, concerts and other events.

“This is a big project,” Rosen said. “This is a lot of working pieces going forward. So, we had to get it right.”

The City of Minneapolis needed certain provisions in the final bill for its assured approval. The city will pay $150 million in upfront costs as well $188.7 million in operating costs over the next 30 years. But the plan also calls for upgrades to the Target Center, home of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.

“This is a great deal for Minneapolis,” Rybak said. “Not only the Vikings stadium, but it also allows enables us to move forward on a renovation of Target Center and fix it before it becomes obsolete. And in the process really give an incredible surge to the hospitality industry that’s going to bring millions of dollars into this state.”

The Vikings plan to apply for as much as $200 million through an NFL loan program. Team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf will also get a five-year exclusive rights window to bring in a professional soccer team that could play in the new stadium.

The Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome ran out after last season, though the team has agreed to play there at least through 2012. Construction could begin while the Metrodome is in use. The Vikings will likely play for at least one season at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus while construction is finished.

The stadium plans call for a 65,000-seat facility built on 1.5 million square feet. The stadium could be expanded to seat 72,000 and meet the NFL standards to host a Super Bowl, an agreement some legislators tried to work into the bill. While the bill doesn’t include such a provision, the NFL could look to reward the state with a Super Bowl, though that would come under consideration later. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came to promote the importance of a new stadium to the Vikings and the NFL. Goodell’s appearance was a big push to cutting through the political red tape that had kept a bill from getting to a vote.

While in town, Goodell explained to Dayton and legislators the viability of developing plans in Los Angeles. But with a Senate vote, a governor’s signature and a city council approval, the Vikings won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

“We’ve got a few years before we get to open the doors, but it’s a very exciting day,” Bagley said. “A lot of people, a lot of work, a lot of years, a lot of energy, but it’s going to be a world-class facility and it’s going to be a great day when we get the doors open.”
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