Editorial: A bipartisan failure on stadium vote

  • Updated: April 18, 2012 - 6:50 PM

There's still time for Vikings, but only if legislative leaders rally.

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Site of proposed Vikings stadium near the Metrodome.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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The setback the stadium bill suffered Monday night may not prove fatal, but it was certainly major, given the late date on the Legislature's 2012 calendar.

Even a stadium booster as unflagging as Gov. Mark Dayton seemed to be preparing to concede defeat for this year after the House committee's 9-6 rejection of the bill.

"We'll get it next year," the DFL governor said Tuesday, while leaving the door open for a special session this fall.

Delay until next year means adding upwards of $40 million to the project's cost, prolonging the uncertainty surrounding a valued community asset and dragging this debate into every legislative race this fall.

(Disclosure: The value of property owned by the Star Tribune near the Metrodome is likely to increase if the proposed project is approved.)

As long as the Legislature is in session, the chance to do the right thing remains. A new Vikings stadium should be authorized this year.

For that to happen, the bill will need more forceful support from legislative leaders than it has garnered to date.

It also needs more backing from the DFL minority than it got from the Government Operations Committee's DFL contingent Monday night. Despite strong support from Dayton and DFL-allied organized labor, only one of the committee's six DFLers voted for the bill.

Committee chair Rep. Joyce Peppin, GOP-Rogers, was not being unreasonable when she pointedly announced that a stadium bill will not advance without votes from both sides of the partisan aisle.

She was explaining political reality: Legislators won't vote for a project as controversial as this one without bipartisan cover. The same was true for Target Field's authorization in 2006 and the Metrodome's in 1979.

House DFL minority leader Paul Thissen allowed Tuesday that the "mixture of DFLers" on the Government Operations Committee was not representative of his caucus on this issue. If that's so, he has an obligation now to help steer the bill on a procedural path that would allow his caucus to show its true colors.

Thissen ought to become more vocal on the issue for another reason: He is one of the few members of the Minneapolis delegation willing to vote for a stadium bill.

A number of Minneapolis legislators have dug in their heels in opposition to any taxpayer backing for this project, thereby giving other legislators an excuse to reject it or to consider a different stadium site. Thissen's visible leadership is needed to dispel that excuse.

Stadium opponents who pretend that the Vikings problem will be magically solved if it is ignored are themselves ignoring NFL history.

Several markets have lost teams when they balked at public-private stadium efforts, only to pay through the nose years later to attract new franchises.

Consider Houston, where the Oilers started talking with the city about a renovation of the Astrodome and a new lease in 1992. Team owner Bud Adams eventually sought a new 70,000-seat facility, asking the public to cover about three-quarters of the cost. But Adams got nowhere with city officials, including an anti-stadium mayor.

Adams found open arms in Nashville, Tenn., however, and he signed a deal in 1995 to move the Oilers.

Of course Houston officials and business leaders were shocked, and they immediately started work on securing a new franchise. They ended up competing with -- you guessed it -- Los Angeles for the league's 32nd team.

In 1999, billionaire Bob McNair purchased the franchise now known as the Texans. He also got the new stadium that Adams had asked for, along with a retractable roof, at a cost three-quarters higher than in the earlier proposal. The public kicked in ... about three-quarters of the cost, through tax breaks, user fees, and hotel and car-rental taxes.

To this point, and to their credit, the Wilfs have kept any threat of moving the Vikings from Minnesota relatively quiet. But the team's owners and the NFL will run out of patience at some point.

If that happens, and if Minnesota loses the franchise, this much is clear: The state would pay a high price if it later tried to bring NFL football back to this market and reclaim the major-league status that's in jeopardy today.

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  • RUNNING OUT OF TIME

    "It's a mistake to think the Vikings and the [National Football League] will continue with the status quo" of playing in the Metrodome without a new stadium.

    Vikings spokesman LESTER BAGLEY, after Monday's House vote

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