Bill takes a gamble for new Vikings stadium

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 5, 2009 - 10:26 PM

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, wants to ask voters whether to authorize a metro-area casino to help build a new football stadium.

Two hot-button issues at the State Capitol -- gambling and a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings -- came together Thursday in new legislation that proposed using revenue from a new Twin Cities metro casino to build the much-discussed stadium.

Saying his constituents were adamant about not wanting the Vikings to leave Minnesota, Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, said his plan would propose a constitutional amendment, asking voters in 2010 whether revenues from a new casino should be used to finance a new stadium. Hackbarth said bonds would be issued to finance the stadium's construction -- work would begin almost immediately if the amendment passed in November 2010 -- and the Vikings would have to sign at least a 30-year lease and enlist a local government partner to help bring about the project.

"Let's let the voters decide," said Hackbarth, who acknowledged he had not spoken to the Vikings and had floated a similar proposal five years ago that gained little political traction. "I think this is a perfect solution" because there would not be a general tax increase, he said.

State legislators, and even the Vikings, were cool to the idea. "We're not advocating for a gaming situation," said Lester Bagley, a spokesman for the Vikings, who have been searching unsuccessfully for a way to kick-start debate on a stadium at the Legislature.

"[But] if that's what the state leaders want to use," Bagley added, "then let's sit down. At least someone is thinking creatively."

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said she did not find the proposal appealing, and Brian McClung, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said Thursday the governor "has said that he isn't interested in gaming." In the past, Pawlenty has had mixed reactions to gambling expansion proposals.

Said Kelliher: "I don't think Minnesotans have an expectation that the words 'casino' and 'stadium' should be enshrined into our state Constitution."

The legislation also was not embraced by Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. The commission owns the Metrodome, where the Vikings have played for more than a quarter century and where the team has a lease to play through 2011. The commission, which has essentially been advocating for a new stadium, said a new study showed that a stadium would create 13,400 jobs while it was being built and generate $32.2 million in taxes during its first year.

"As far as the gaming, we've never endorsed that as a particular solution," he said. "That would be outside of the purview of our authority."

Even amid a staggering state and national economy, the Vikings have continued to push for a stadium. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has met recently with Pawlenty and key legislators, but the team has failed to entice a local government partner to help finance the project. And though the team has maintained it is not threatening to leave Minnesota, Bagley said that the developers of a new stadium near Los Angeles have periodically attempted to contact the team.

Staff writer Bob Von Sternberg contributed to this article.

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