Gov. Mark Dayton was cheered — and heckled — Monday as he signed legislation for a public subsidy package to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium as a smiling team owner Zygi Wilf watched.
The governor and the Vikings owner were joined at the state Capitol by scores of political, business and labor leaders, who nervously watched as a small group of homeless advocates held protest signs and chanted “Shame! Shame!” as Dayton and others spoke. But the crowd was dominated by fans in Vikings jerseys, who countered by loudly singing the team fight song and giving Dayton a standing ovation.
“I’m proud of those who stepped forward and said, ‘This is what makes Minnesota special’,” said Dayton.
“These bills, that involve major public investments, are understandably controversial,” said the governor, who on more than one occasion had to ask the hecklers to let him speak. “They’re hotly debated. They’re closely inspected – as they should be. That’s democracy, and that’s Minnesota.”
After months of roller-coaster lobbying, the House and Senate dramatically passed a public subsidy package last week that will have the state contribute $348 million to the downtown Minneapolis project and have the city add $150 million to its construction. The state’s share will come from allowing electronic bingo and pull tabs in Minnesota’s bars and restaurants, and the city’s contribution will come from diverting local taxes now being used to pay for the city’s convention center.
Though the protesters held up signs saying “Homeless Can’t Live in Stadiums” and “Why Not Get This Fired Up to Stop Homelessness?”, the day clearly belonged to the stadium advocates.
“We did it!” Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House stadium author, said as he addressed the crowd in the state Capitol rotunda, which cheered and whistled as he spoke.
“I’ve never seen any support like it for any other issue,” said the 10-year legislator.
Wilf and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak were both also heckled as they spoke.
“This is a great day for Minnesota, a great day for the Vikings fans,” said Wilf.
“Taxpayer money!” yelled one protester, interrupting the Vikings owner.
Lance Hagen leaned over a railing, watching the bill signing with other Vikings jersey-clad fans. “I was here every day, pretty much,” Hagen, a carpet cleaner from Coon Rapids, said of the vigil he kept at the state Capitol as the stadium funding was voted on. “I was here till 4:30, 5:30” in the morning last week.
“Some of [our critics] refer to us fans as idiots, but most of us have jobs,” he said.
Al Kolberg, a 74-year-old fan from Burnsville, watched the bill signing with his wife, Verla. “I give credit to Governor Dayton and all that he’s done,” said Kolberg, a season-ticket holder for 52 years. Kolberg and his wife said the only thing missing from the $1 billion stadium is a commitment from Wilf to include a retractable roof.
“Definitely need a [retractable] roof,” said Verla Kolberg.
Angel Buechner of Minneapolis however just shook her head. Dayton “ran his campaign on taxing the rich. [Now] he’s protecting a rich team owner,” she said. “There is opposition [to the stadium plan] — it is just not us few.”