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Revived Friday by legislative leaders after personal lobbying by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, a proposal for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium could well have an outside shot at overall approval.
The turn of events came during a day of drama in which top league officials flew in to personally make the case that the stadium issue must be decided this spring. Only hours after Goodell and Gov. Mark Dayton pressed legislative leaders on the issue, a Senate committee voted 8-6 to advance the plan for the nearly $1billion stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
The committee's vote shoved aside -- at least for now -- an alternative plan to instead build the stadium in Ramsey County's Arden Hills. "I think it helped to have the commissioner here today," said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief Senate author of the stadium legislation. "I feel very good."
Dayton began the day standing alongside Goodell and saying the state's top DFL and Republican leaders were committed to trying to pass a plan for a new Vikings stadium this spring.
"If all eight of us pull together, work together and are truly committed to passing this bill, it will pass," Dayton said after meeting with Goodell. "If we're not, if we don't work together, it won't."
House Speaker Kurt Zellers -- who has been at best lukewarm on the project -- predicted the proposal would get floor votes in both the House and Senate before the Legislature adjourns in the coming weeks.
Even Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, the Senate committee chair who voted against the project, conceded the stadium's chances have quickly improved. "They're better with every committee, because the bill becomes more well known and gets more refined," he said.
Goodell said there were no threats by the league or Vikings owner Zygi Wilf to move the team should legislators fail to pass a bill before they adjourn. "There were no implied threats, or any threats at all," he said. "What we talked about is the importance of creating a solution here."
Another NFL executive said earlier this week, however, that the lack of action on a stadium was creating "ripe'' conditions for the Vikings to be sold and moved. Dayton had characterized that message as a warning.
On Friday, however, the governor said that Goodell did not initiate any discussions about the Vikings moving to Los Angeles or elsewhere.
"One of us -- a legislator -- brought the subject up," the governor said. "[The NFL] said they would like to have a team in Los Angeles [and] they would like to have it not be the Vikings."
Much of Friday's focus was on the state's Republican legislative leaders, particularly Zellers, who heads the Republican majority in the House. He has been vague on how much influence he will exert to help push the stadium bill, which remains marooned in a House committee after a surprising defeat Monday.
Zellers didn't promise the Vikings subsidy package would be voted on by the full House before adjournment. "We'll have that answer for you in the next couple of days," he said. "Right now, I think it's a little too early. Essentially, the bill is dead [but] there's creative ways around here to make sure that things do continue to move."
Reaction to Friday's stadium developments at the Capitol varied.
"I think if [the NFL and Vikings] start threatening, I think that would be a mistake," said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Nelson Township, an assistant House majority leader. Torkelson said he is unsure whether he will vote for the stadium in Minneapolis, partly because the City Council still seems "lukewarm" to making Minneapolis' contribution to the project.
Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, who voted against the stadium plan in Monday's House hearing, said he still has multiple issues with the proposal. But, he added, "My issues with the bill, I think they can be fixed. I'm optimistic."
Zellers said in a radio interview Friday that DFLers and Republicans share blame for the proposal's failure Monday in a House committee. "That was a misstep, on all of our parts," he said.
There remain indications that the plan faces additional complications -- a competing proposal remained alive to simply give the Vikings a $300 million loan, and no more.
"I like [it] because it focuses on treating the Vikings like any other business," Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, an assistant majority leader, said of the loan-only approach. When the final Vikings stadium plan is crafted, said Gazelka, "maybe there'll be a combination of that and another approach."
Under the plan approved Friday, the Vikings would pay $427 million while the state would add $398 million. Minneapolis would contribute $150 million to construction costs. The team would also contribute $327 million to the stadium's operation, and the city would add another $189 million.
Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, said Goodell's visit moved the issue forward, but passing the bill this spring remains difficult.
"There's an opportunity here, and we need to make it happen," said Melander, a leader in the push by labor unions who want the construction jobs the stadium would create.
The large crowd outside Dayton's office included many familiar stadium supporters. As Goodell made his way into the governor's office, he was greeted by Larry Spooner, a Vikings fan who wore a team jersey and held a sign that read: "Vikings Stadium -- Yes."
Spooner yelled out as Goodell passed: "We love our Vikings! We love our Vikings!"
"It was kind of like seeing God walk by -- not really -- but God's assistant," a smiling Spooner said afterward.