Vikings stadium deal is heating up in Legislature

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2010 - 11:08 AM

Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk says a bill is in the works, while team officials now say they're confident about their chances

A deal to build a new Vikings stadium seems to be gathering momentum at the State Capitol, with a top DFL senator saying Wednesday that "most of the pieces" of a legislative proposal were "pretty much drafted."

Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said that he has been working on the bill with others and that there is "plenty of time" to pass it before the Legislature adjourns in mid-May.

Earlier in the day, Vikings President Mark Wilf told a group of business leaders that he was "confident" the National Football League team would be able to strike a deal to obtain public subsidies to build a new stadium.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering for a controversial $870 million stadium appears to be intensifying, even though no formal legislation has been introduced.

Lester Bagley, who directs the Vikings' stadium development efforts, said Wednesday that a public subsidy request by the team would likely include "a number of different revenue streams" and that legislative leaders along with local business officials were privately conferring over which package would likely get the most support.

There's "progress every day about sorting out how and when to position the issue, and move it forward," Bagley said.

The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires after the 2011 season, and team officials have said they will not consider an extension without a stadium deal.

In recent months, the team has broadly outlined a proposal to possibly use a metro-wide hospitality tax, divert sales taxes already generated by the team and perhaps even obtain federal stimulus money to help build the stadium.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has increasingly commented on the need to find a stadium solution, floated the idea in February of using proceeds from a state lottery game.

The timing of any proposal may be tricky -- and sure to be filled with controversy. With five weeks left in the session, legislators have yet to tackle appropriations for K-12 schools and health and human services or make the cuts needed to completely balance the state's budget. They also have a $2.7 billion unallotment court case looming. State Supreme Court justices are still pondering their decision in the case, which deals with emergency budget cuts Pawlenty made last year.

Outwardly, at least, the Legislature has had little to say about a Vikings stadium so far this year. Before Easter, as legislators debated a jobs creation bill, the House voted 132-0 against using any parts of the legislation "to assist the state, any subdivision or agency of the state, a local government, or any private entity or person in financing or constructing a stadium or ballpark."

"If you wanted to test the temperature of the legislative support [for a Vikings stadium], I would use that as a reference point," Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, said Wednesday. "That to me would indicate the wind is in your face."

Although polls have consistently shown widespread opposition to public financing of a new Vikings stadium, some supporters hope the team can capitalize on another bit of timing -- next week's regular season opener at Target Field, the publicly subsidized home of the Minnesota Twins that is generally winning accolades from fans and the media.

"I think it helps," said Roy Terwilliger, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns the Metrodome. "I think [Target Field] causes people to realize [the Metrodome] is an old ... facility."

Bakk said the most surprising aspect of the Target Field debut is how few people were publicly complaining about the subsidies used to help build it. "People ... forget once something actually passes," he said. "People got beyond how you're going to pay for it."

Mark Wilf, the brother of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, joined in the optimism Wednesday in comments at a Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal briefing. "There's five weeks to go in our legislative session here, and we're confident that we can still reach a resolution to get a stadium solution," he told the crowd. "We feel something will get done this session."

Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, has in recent weeks deflected speculation that he would be a House sponsor of stadium legislation. House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, echoing the comments of many legislators, has said publicly that he was focused on more pressing issues facing the Legislature, including the state budget deficit, job creation and health care.

But Bagley said Wilf's comments showed that the momentum was building. "His comments reflect where we think things stand," said Bagley. "We've got good energy."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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