House OKs stadium, ups Vikes' share
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings took a giant step Monday night toward a new taxpayer-subsidized football stadium when the state House approved legislation, but lawmakers upped the share the team would have to pay.
The $975 million stadium plan passed the House on a 73-58 vote. The state Senate planned to act on a competing version Tuesday. Passage there would send the bill into final negotiations, putting the team closer than ever to a replacement for the aging Metrodome.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton hailed the vote by thanking fans who have flooded lawmaker phone lines, email inboxes and the Capitol itself to push for passage. Several stood outside the House chamber singing the team fight song after the vote.
"The voices of the people of Minnesota were heard tonight," Dayton said.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley, who has spent about a decade trying to get the team to this stage, also breathed a sigh of relief. But he said franchise owners will find it tough to stomach an amendment that would put the team on the hook for $105 million more.
"There's time to work on it and get it fixed," Bagley said. "I don't want to take away from the moment. It was a great day."
Early in a nine-hour debate, the House overhauled the proposal to boost the team's share from the $427 million owners have committed to find from private sources, including the NFL. It was among almost four dozen amendments considered, with relatively few controversial ones succeeding.
Toward the end of debate, House members rose one after another to defend their intention to back or oppose the bill.
Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph, made it personal. He told of being born during a Vikings game, with his dad having to break away from an overtime game to ferry his mom to the hospital. Hosch said he can't fathom not having Sunday games to share with his own kids.
"It might not make sense in dollars and cents," Hosch said, adding, "I can't imagine a state without the Vikings."
Others urged their colleagues not to let nostalgia cloud their decisions on a massive public subsidy.
"Let's not build a monument to misplaced priorities," said Rep. Doug Wardlow, a freshman Republican.
Many who were against it raised concerns that the gambling money needed to repay bonds wouldn't materialize, putting taxpayers on the hook.
"It's like purchasing a house and hoping you can make the payments," said Republican Rep. Mary Franson. "We are building a stadium and we are hoping we can make the payments."
Discussion on the House floor was overshadowed at times by the chants of Vikings boosters rallying in the rotunda outside. Dayton and Vikings players, including quarterback Christian Ponder, fired up purple-clad fans, who chanted, "Build it!"
Ponder drew cheers when he said, "I want to be here in Minnesota for the rest of my life."
The Vikings have pushed for a new stadium for more than a decade, but their efforts went nowhere until their lease at the Metrodome expired. Rep. Morrie Lanning, the bill's sponsor, said the team likely would leave the state if the legislation fails.
"Whatever you think of this bill, this is our one chance," said Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove. "This bill works, it's been fine-tuned and it will build a stadium."
The plan negotiated by the governor, key lawmakers, the Minneapolis mayor and the team would have the Vikings cover about $427 million of the construction costs, or about 44 percent. 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.
The amendment raising the team's share won strong bipartisan approval. Another would give the state a bigger share of any proceeds from a team sale once the stadium is built.
A plan to pay the state's share through a gambling expansion survived an attempt to remove it when House members turned back a push to replace that money with fees on tickets, concessions and other fan purchases.
The Vikings will play the upcoming season at the Metrodome but are free to leave after that. The team hasn't threatened to move, but fans fear they could relocate to Los Angeles or another city seeking its own football team.
"If they don't do it now, they're out in LA by next year, or someplace else," said J.P. Charney, 24, of Minnetonka, who came to the Capitol with his brother to support a new stadium.
Dayton made the stadium issue his top priority last fall, urging lawmakers to act to avoid losing a valuable asset. Dayton has also touted the thousands of jobs that stadium construction would bring.
The governor has acted as lead cheerleader for the project, joining in chants of "Build it!" in a raucous rotunda rally with construction workers before the House debate Monday.
"Minnesota's a can-do state," he told the crowd. "We've been successful because we say, 'Yes we're going to move ahead. Yes, we're going to create more jobs. Yes, we're going to do the things we want to do to remain vital and strong.' "
Supporters weren't ready to predict passage. The legislation appeared all but dead until NFL commissioner Roger Goodell visited in April, raising pressure on lawmakers to act. After that, the bill limped through several committees.
Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak said stadium supporters picked up momentum after fans and construction workers mobilized to support the project over the weekend. Dayton appeared at rallies at the Mall of America on Saturday and a Minneapolis sports bar on Sunday.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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