Minnesota Viking’s New Stadium a Step Closer After House Passes Plan

By Community | May 8, 2012

The Minnesota House have passed a public subsidy package for NFL’s Minnesota Vikings new stadium, sending the project marching toward final passage at the State Capitol.

The final vote came after a day of high drama and a weekend of intense lobbying by Gov. Mark Dayton and the team, and produced a relatively easy 73-to-58 approval in the House. Though Republicans hold a majority in the House, members of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party did the heavy political lifting on the final vote, producing 40 of the 73 votes. The victory was also noteworthy because House Speaker Kurt Zellers — the leading Republican in the House — voted against the project.

The stadium project now goes before the Senate, possibly on Tuesday, and could be ready for Dayton to sign into law by the end of the week.

“The voices of the people of Minnesota were heard tonight,” Dayton said after the House vote.

“There’s not many other issues that bring this many people to the Capitol,” said Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, one of the project’s biggest supporters. “Professional sports provides an escape from reality, a much-needed distraction from stressful lives.”

In one pivotal change however the House voted overwhelmingly to boost the Vikings’ contribution to the nearly $1 billion stadium, upping the team’s share from $427 million to $532 million. The change, which would lower the state’s share to $293 million, may not survive further legislative negotiating this week and was opposed by the Vikings.

“That particular amendment is not workable,” Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said. “(But) I don’t want to take away from the moment.”

Bagley — notably — did not say the team would reject the overall proposal should the provision remain.

The eight-hour House debate did leave many pleading for legislators to set aside the stadium at a time of a stressed state budget. “Let’s not build a monument to misplaced priorities,” said Rep. Doug Wardlow, R-Eagan.

Though Vikings owner Zygi Wilf had never explicitly threatened to move the team — and was already committed to play in the existing Metrodome for one more year — Monday’s vote was driven by a sense that the team would leave without a new, taxpayer-supported stadium. The surge to build the stadium, which had been hotly debated across Minnesota, seemed to gain its final momentum after the National Football League commissioner made a personal visit to the state Capitol last month.

“Lo and behold, Commissioner (Roger) Goodell came to town, and people got starry-eyed,” said Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan.

For the Vikings, the victory came after years of public polls that showed widespread opposition to using taxpayer money for a new stadium and after the team watched as the Minnesota Twins won approval six years ago for its own publicly subsidized ballpark.

Monday’s vote culminated a long journey for the team, which in recent years had supported — and then rejected — plans to build a new stadium in Anoka County and more recently in Ramsey County’s Arden Hills. The Arden Hills plan in fact was still viable at the beginning of the year, but lost steam when Dayton said that only a new stadium in Minneapolis could possibly win legislative approval this year.

Stadium supporters began the weekend believing they did not have the necessary votes to pass the agreement, but a handful of legislators came out in the last day to announce they would vote for it. One who changed was Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who had helped temporarily kill the project in a House committee last month but said that despite heavy reservations he was now supporting it.

Though Winkler said the lobbying by the Vikings had shown that the affluent were “very good at bending the rules” to get what they want, the project provided “jobs for construction workers right now.”