NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with state leaders Friday in a high-stakes effort to win a publicly funded stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
The meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders from both parties followed a Thursday telephone call in which NFL officials told Dayton it was urgent to resolve the stadium issue this spring. "They didn't issue any threats or anything, but it was more of a warning" that the Vikings might leave Minnesota, Dayton said on Thursday. "It was very clear that they see that the Vikings will be in play [to move] if this is not resolved or unfavorably resolved in this session."
There were more meetings and discussions Thursday in hopes of finding a plan to fund the $1 billion stadium project, with continued political jockeying by DFLers and Republicans dominating the day. As the Republican-led Legislature moves quickly toward adjournment later this month, there is little time left for legislators to resurrect the Vikings stadium bill.
In the Senate, where Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, has vowed to work to get things moving, the bill is scheduled to come before the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee on Friday. Also on the agenda are competing plans to build the stadium in Arden Hills and another for the state to lend the Vikings $300 million for a new stadium.
The House Taxes Committee on Thursday kept a gambling bill moving that could provide the funding for the state contribution to a Vikings stadium.
The gambling bill, sponsored by Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, would legalize new games for charitable gambling in bars -- electronic pulltabs, electronic bingo and tipboards based on professional sports games. After a lengthy debate, including a half-hearted attempt by DFL members to have the state borrow the money for the stadium, the committee passed the bill along to the next committee, without recommendation, on a mixed voice vote.
Kriesel, a supporter of the Vikings stadium project, said he is "amenable" to using the new revenue for the state's stadium share. "Let's make sure, if there's no stadium, that we take care of the charities," he added.
Involvement gets personal
Goodell will be accompanied Friday by Art Rooney II, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the head of the league's stadium committee.
The personal involvement of NFL officials is one of a growing number of signs that the league believes the Vikings are moving closer to "stalemate" conditions with the team's host city. Once a stalemate is established, the team can be considered for relocation.
On Thursday, Goodell was in Los Angeles, meeting with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa about returning an NFL team to the city. The Los Angeles Daily News reported that team owner Zygi Wilf's corporate plane had been seen at a Southern California airport.
Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said Goodell's arrival in Minnesota "elevates this whole issue." The senator said he believes "the Vikings are probably going to be around for another year or so," but added that, "I don't think we can forget about St. Louis, Baltimore, Los Angeles [and] Oakland." Those cities have lost NFL teams over the years.
Some legislators were skeptical of the high-pressure tactics being applied.
"The NFL's ramping up the rhetoric because they're not getting the bill passed that they want," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who voted against the stadium plan Monday in a House committee. "We've got to balance the threats they make with the bad deal that this stadium bill is."
'Is it real? Is it rhetoric?'
Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, a vocal opponent of public subsidy packages for stadiums, said she wanted to know whether Goodell was coming as part of an orchestrated stadium lobbying effort or to show how serious the situation really is.
"I honestly want to know that," she said. "Is it real? Is it rhetoric?"
So far, however, the Legislature has shown little willingness to move ahead with a plan in which the Vikings would contribute $427 million to a new stadium, the state would add $398 million and Minneapolis would chip in $150 million. The stadium plan has been mired in uncertainty ever since the jolting defeat Monday before the House panel.
The Republican chairwoman of that panel said that Goodell's visit is unlikely to change her mind and that she knew of no attempt to have her committee reconsider.
"We're wrapped up," said Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, who leads the House Government Operations and Elections Committee. "Nobody has asked me, or suggested, that we reconsider."
She was blunt when asked what Goodell could add to the stadium debate. "The plan has to be a better plan," she said.
There was a brief -- but unsuccessful -- attempt Thursday to revive the plan in the Minnesota House.
As the GOP-led House prepared to adjourn for the day, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, suddenly asked that the plan be resurrected and sent to the House Taxes Committee. Republicans defeated that move 68 to 59.
Thissen said of the Republicans' vote that it "gives the lie to their seriousness about actually doing" a stadium project this spring.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, chief House author of the stadium legislation, said of Thissen's proposal that "this little stunt here is not the best route" to revive the stadium.
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See Gov. Mark Dayton talk about his conversations with the NFL about the stadium at www.startribune.com/video.