By Baird Helgeson and Mike Kaszuba
Some Republican legislators are quietly shopping around a new Minnesota Vikings stadium proposal that would eliminate the roof, at least in the short term, and potentially shrink the state’s financial stake.
Under the emerging proposal, the state’s stadium contribution – something below the current $400 million commitment -- could get lumped in with a larger bonding bill that would pay for repair of roads, bridges and buildings, including restoration of the Capitol.
The plan would leave all other components of the existing plan intact, including the downtown Minneapolis location. The contributions by the Vikings and the city of Minneapolis would remain the same.
Senate stadium bill sponsor, Sen. Julie Rosen, said she only heard the details this morning and stressed that this is not a new stadium agreement.
“It’s a thought,” said Rosen, R-Fairmont. “It hasn’t been properly vetted through all the channels, but it’s worth taking a look at.”
Rosen said she remains adamant that the new stadium have a roof, either retractable or permanent.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, a leading force for a new stadium, summoned journalists to his office to blast the idea.
He called it an end-of-session "gimmick" that "doesn't make sense in a rational or viable way."
Dayton said he was upset Republicans tried to negotiate with the team secretly, not telling his administration even as they met to cut a session-ending global deal on tax breaks, bonding and the stadium.
"It's cynical, underhanded politics," Dayton said.
National Football League spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league was aware of negotiations over a roof-less stadium in Minnesota, but said would leave that decision to the Vikings.
“We don’t have a position on the roof. It’s a club matter,” McCarthy said Tuesday.
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team was made aware of the newest proposal only in the last day, and viewed it as simply another idea. “We’ve been asked for analysis and feedback,” he said. “This is not our proposal.”
He said the team remained committed to trying to pass the plan that the team had already agreed to – a proposal that would have a roofed stadium and have the state contribute $398 million to the project by allowing electronic bingo and pull tabs in Minnesota’s bars and restaurants.
“The foundation of [that plan is] what we are trying to push through,” he said.
Senate Republicans were expected to meet Tuesday over the lunch hour in part to discuss this latest stadium idea.
The proposal has some advantages that could make it more politically palatable around the Capitol. It would not rely on expanded gambling to pay the state’s share. Many Republicans and some Democrats who have long opposed new gambling and harbor strong doubts that an expansion of electronic pull-tabs and sports-themed tip boards would bring in enough money to pay the state’s share.
Instead, the debt might have to be repaid with general tax dollars, something Republicans and DFL Gov, Mark Dayton said would not work.
The proposal could inflate the size of the bonding bill, which Democrats have pushed for as a signature component of their job-creation agenda.
Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, declined comment on the proposal.
“We are sworn to secrecy,” he said Tuesday morning. “We had a brief conversation last night, and we will talk about it in caucus. So, we will see. I am not going to talk about it.”
While a deal to only build a roof-ready stadium might have supporters, it would also puncture some of the selling points the team and Dayton have used for the project.
Dayton has long touted the project as a “People’s Stadium,” stressing that the Vikings would play as few as 10 games a year in the facility. Stadium supporters have said that, like the Metrodome, which has an inflatable roof, a new roofed stadium would be publicly owned and used for an array of amateur sports and special events year-round.
In addition Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley has testified at the state Capitol on several occasions that a new stadium – with a roof – would enable Minnesota to compete for the Super Bowl and the Final Four, the annual college basketball tournament.
No Super Bowl has been held in a northern city that did not have a roofed stadium.