Fate Of Vikings’ Future In Twin Cities Looms On Votes
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Supporters of a new Vikings stadium pleaded for votes in the Minnesota House on Monday, calling it their “one chance” to preserve the team’s future in the state.
In a sign of the tough road ahead, the chamber swiftly overhauled the $975 million proposal to raise by $105 million the amount the team would kick in, with support from both Republicans and Democrats. The debate was expected to stretch into the evening, possibly past midnight.
Discussion on the House floor was overshadowed at times by the chants of Vikings boosters rallying in the rotunda outside. Democratic Gov. Mark 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 House vote will serve as the first test for a proposal that must also clear the Senate and likely would face House-Senate negotiations before another round of votes.
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.
But almost every aspect of the deal was being tested on the House floor. The first major amendment would cap the state’s share at $293 million, while requiring the team to come up with $532 million from private.
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 L.A. 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.
“I feel that the numbers are close and the numbers are moving in our direction,” said Rybak, who has been lobbying legislators for the project.
One Democrat, Rep. Ryan Winkler, announced Sunday he was changing his “no” vote to “yes” because he saw the stadium as the only job-producing project likely to come out of the Legislature this session.
Associated Press writer Alexandra Tempus contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.