Mike Kaszuba and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
The Minnesota Vikings won a decisive and long-awaited political victory late Monday when the House passed a public subsidy package for a new stadium, sending the project marching toward final passage at the state Capitol.
The final vote came months of intense lobbying by Gov. Mark Dayton and the team, and produced a relatively easy 73-58 approval in the House.
The stadium project could go to the Senate for a vote as soon as today. After the House and Senate work through their differences, it could be ready for Dayton to sign into law by the end of the week.
Though Vikings owner Zygi Wilf had never explicitly threatened to move the team – and was already committed to play in the existing Metrodome for one more year – Monday’s vote was driven by a sense that the team would leave without a new, taxpayer-supported stadium. The surge to build the stadium, which had been hotly debated across Minnesota, seemed to gain its final momentum after the National Football League commissioner made a personal visit to the state Capitol last month.
For the Vikings, the victory came after years of public polls that showed widespread opposition to using taxpayer money for a new stadium and after the team watched as the Minnesota Twins won approval six years ago for its own publicly-subsidized ballpark.
Monday’s vote culminated a long journey for the team, which in recent years had supported – and then rejected – plans to build a new stadium in Anoka County and more recently in Ramsey County’s Arden Hills. The Arden Hills plan in fact was still viable at the beginning of the year, but lost steam when Dayton said that only a new stadium in Minneapolis could possibly win legislative approval this year.
Before passage in the House late Monday, members approved changing the deal so that the state pays $105 million less and the Vikings' pay $105 million more. It would share revenue from naming rights for the stadium, rather than let the team have all of that money, and would require that the team pay any cost overruns.
"It's only fair that the public have part of that contribution," Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said of naming rights.
The stadium game is still not complete.
The House vote -- the first of at least three more to come if the measure is to become law -- aired out all the long simmering issues over government subsidies for pro-sports palaces.
Those against it complained that it represented misplaced priorities, has an uncertain funding mechanism and helps out a billionaire who doesn't deserve the break.
Those for it said the Vikings are a state asset worth saving, the project would employ job-hungry building trades and would help Minneapolis thrive.
And then there were those who said it is just time just to stop talking and start doing.
"[Time to] get it out of our hair," Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, told colleagues urging a yes vote.