ST. PAUL (AP) A state Senate committee served up a stadium appetizer March 27 for the Minnesota Vikings amid clear signs the team will be back for the main course in 2009.
An amendment to a bigger tax plan authorizes the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to proceed on a $2 million study of design, site and financing options of a new stadium complex. The team and the commission would split the cost.
The study must be done by early 2009. It must address needs for a football stadium with a retractable roof, accommodate NCAA basketball tournament games and allow for professional and amateur soccer. On the money end, a possible tax on sports memorabilia must be explored.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty dismissed the need for a study and voiced disappointment that the commission would spend public dollars to do it at a time when the state budget is in the red.
“It’s been studied 15 times over the years by everybody. It’s not rocket science,” he said. “The options have been vetted, identified and displayed. We’ve had hearings on it. I’m not sure why they would spend $2 million re-identifying those options.”
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the move puts the stadium discussion of the table for next year’s Legislature.
“This will keep us on a timeline to tee this up and get this done as our use agreement expires,” Bagley said.
The Vikings are under lease at the Metrodome through 2011. The team has struggled to gain support for a new $954 million stadium. The latest plan calls for construction where the Metrodome now stands.
If all goes the Vikings way, a new stadium would open for the 2012 season. The team would likely play in a new University of Minnesota football stadium during construction.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, argued against the study, saying it assumes public money is needed for a new football stadium.
Marty described it as the “first step toward funding a football stadium that a lot of Minnesotans feel is a lousy idea.”
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, agreed. “It’s already presuming to get the presumptive buyer to sign on the bottom line,” Limmer said.
The DFL-led Senate Taxes Committee added the amendment to a large-scale tax bill on a 9-4 vote, with Marty joining three Republicans in opposition.
The study plan could face a tougher time in the House. The chairwoman of that chamber’s tax committee, DFLer Ann Lenczewski of Bloomington, was cool to the idea.
“Studies that have only advocates aren’t studies,” she said. “Why would we want to encourage them?”
The sports commission’s chairman, Roy Terwilliger, said the panel probably doesn’t need the Legislature’s backing to do the study. But he said he wanted state lawmakers to sign off on the large expense because the stadium debate will return to the Capitol eventually. The commission has a $15 million reserve fed by Metrodome event revenue.
Terwilliger, a Pawlenty appointee, said the report would include a menu of financing options for state lawmakers to consider.
“Time is money here,” he said, stressing that each year of delay adds tens of millions of dollars to the stadium construction cost.
Bagley said the Vikings and the NFL have committed $250 million toward the project. That leaves $700 million for stadium supporters to find.
In 2006, the Minnesota Twins partnered with Hennepin County to pass a sales tax to pay for a new downtown ballpark. So far, the Vikings have no local government partner.