Disappointment, gladness, behind-the-scene actors mark progress of stadium bill

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria stepped out the Senate Chamber shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday (May 9) and headed down to a committee room where the stadium conference committee was meeting.

As Sen. Julie Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning listen in the foreground, Vikings stadium front man Lester Bagley addresses the Vikings stadium conference committee early this morning to announce the team has agreed to the stadium bill. The hunt for the a new stadium for the team has taken over a decade. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“I think we have a deal,” said Rosen, pausing on the broad Capitol stairwell to speak briefly to a well wisher leaning over the balustrade above.

Not long after the conference committee paused to await the printing of the conference committee reports, Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, passed by in the corridor.

Nienow, a sharp stadium critic, views the process by which the stadium legislation was crafted as flawed.

State officials, he argued, basically approached the team and asked, “‘What do you want?’”

“‘The sun, the moon and stars,’” Nienow envisions Vikings officials as responding.

No, the Vikings didn’t everything that they wanted, he  explained.

They got the stars and half the moon, Nienow said.

“And I’m suppose to be happy with that?” he rhetorically asked.

In the House chamber lawmakers sat at their desk or in loose clumps, talking, awaiting the stadium bill to clear the conference committee.

Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, came to the back of the House chamber and began talking about the stadium.

“The visit by the NFL (National Football League) was helpful,” said Abeler, referring to a recent visit to the State Capitol by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and others.

House Vikings stadium bill author Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and Senate stadium bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, in conference committee today. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

The NFL officials lent an element of reality to the idea that the Vikings could actually leave the state, he explained.

“It was very timely,” said Abeler.

The reality of the situation began to soak in with the legislative leaders, he explained.

“This has been really hard on him,” said Abeler of House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

“He had to solve a problem that he didn’t really want to solve,” he said.

The stadium issue doesn’t fit Zellers’ political message, said Abeler.

But rather than simply turning away, Zellers, though not personally supporting the stadium, worked to get the bill passed, explained Abeler.

“He’s (Zellers) worked really hard behind the scenes to get votes,” said Abeler.

Abeler, who served under former House speaker Steve Sviggum, said unlike Sviggum, Zellers never tried to strong arm Republican caucus members to vote for the stadium.

It was more subtle, Abeler explained.

Abeler views Zellers, though he acted quietly behind the scene, as critical to the success of stadium initiative thus far.

“Absolutely,” Abeler said.

Zellers wanted the stadium bill to pass.

Vikings stadium front man Lester Bagley appeared before the Vikings stadium conference committee at a quarter past midnight today.

“The Vikings and the Wilfs (Wilf Family) have stepped up,” said Bagley of the team owners.

Bagley confirmed the team had agreed to provide an up front stadium construction contribution of $477 million — throwing an additional $50 million in the kitty.

“Hopefully we can wrap the bill up and move it forward,” Bagley said.

There’s still some work left to do, Bagley noted.

A congratulatory mood was on the conference committee.

“It’s a good deal for all,” said Dayton Administration stadium front man Ted Mondale to the committee.

“Great work from this committee. You guys made this bill work,” said Mondale.

Mondale also threw credit to his boss, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, for providing strong, unwavering leadership.

The state is throwing in less money under the new bill — it’s contribution was lowered by $50 million to $348 million.

Both House and Senate took action on their respective floors to lower the state’s stadium contribution, though picking different amounts.

The city of Minneapolis’ stadium contributions remains at $150 million.

Although Rosen heralded a provision in her bill granting the Amateur Sports Commission naming rights to a stadium plaza, that did not make it into the conference committee bill.

The bill calls for a 30-year lease agreement with the team and grants team owners five years exclusive rights to establish a professional soccer team in the state.

The legislation provides exemptions to the Minneapolis City Charter relating to construction costs and possible voter referendums.

The bill contains anticipated charitable gambling electronic pull-tabs and bingo provisions and has a provision dealing with sports’ theme tip boards.

It contains “blink-on” user fee provisions should projected gambling revenues fall short — a surcharge on luxury suites and a sports theme lottery game.

Stadium building materials are exempt from the state sales tax.

The bill abolishes the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission and creates the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.

The new stadium is envisioned as approximately 1,500,000 square feet with approximately 65,000 seats, expandable to 72,000.

Vikings officials and others point to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis as a model for the stadium.

The stadium will boast a Minnesota Vikings museum and Hall of Fame, as well as gift shops, concessions, restaurants.

The House took up the stadium bill at about 1:45 a.m. today.

The Senate has adjourned for the day, scheduled to come back into session at 9 a.m.