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Minn. Senate approves stadium bill

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- After 11 hours of debate and some close
calls, the Minnesota Vikings stadium legislation won approval late
Tuesday from the state Senate to set up a final round of
negotiations.

The full Legislature is now on record, with a majority of
lawmakers opting for a publicly subsidized stadium. Barring
reversals or late surprises, the Vikings are primed to emerge this
month with authorization for a new $975 million stadium it has
chased for more than a decade.

The Senate's 38-20 vote Tuesday came a day after the House
approved its own stadium bill. A conference committee will work out
differences, and the Vikings are already on record against the
House version for a $105 million hike in the amount they would pay.
The Senate's version includes a smaller bump.

If both chambers pass the final product, the measure goes to
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who has led the charge for a new
stadium for months.

The Vikings say they can't make enough money in the 30-year-old
Metrodome to compete.

It was clear from the get-go Tuesday that stadium supporters
wanted to turn to offense rather than defense in 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 $25 million additional 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, 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 told reporters after the vote that the team wasn't
ready to commit to an uptick in the private share. He said there
were "a lot of issues that needed to be sorted through" in the
upcoming conference committee.

Bagley has 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.

Under a plan negotiated last winter by the governor, key
lawmakers, the Minneapolis mayor and the team, the Vikings would
pay $427 million and 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."

Others 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." Goodwin wound up supporting the bill anyway.