Senate committee debates naming rights for U stadium

  • Article by: Mark Brunswick
  • Star Tribune
  • April 26, 2006 - 9:34 PM

The University of Minnesota's request for financing help for an on-campus football stadium, which sped through House approval, on Wednesday faced several hurdles in a Senate committee, which asked hard questions about a naming agreement with a local bank and contaminated land slated for a swap.

The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill eliminating provisions for naming rights, removing the proposed land swap and scuttling plans to increase student fees to help pay for the new stadium. The provisions are at odds with a House version, which overwhelmingly passed earlier this month.

The Senate measure is expected to be heard in the Taxes Committee as early as today and could go to the floor for a vote next week, the first of several stadium proposals that include efforts by the Twins and Vikings.

On top of a $7.4 million-a-year appropriation, the Senate's $12.9 million annual proposal would have the state absorb $1.5 million a year for 25 years in lieu of giving away naming rights and it would eliminate a $4 million-a-year increase in student fees.

Under a $35 million naming-rights agreement with TCF Financial Corp., the facility would bear the name TCF Bank Stadium. The offer expires June 30.

Other funding for the $248 million open-air stadium at Oak Street and University Avenue SE. on the Minneapolis campus is projected to come from parking fees, private donations and sponsorships.

The 50,000-seat stadium is slated to open in 2009.

Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, the Senate sponsor of the bill, has expressed an aversion to selling naming rights on public buildings, especially a stadium he described as potentially "the premier public building in the state."

But others felt the enticement of $35 million should be too much to pass up.

"We get a little too ideological about this," said Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon. "I think we should take this money and go with this."

Pollution concerns?

Committee members also raised concerns about the land swap that is a key to the latest deal. Pogemiller temporarily removed it from the Senate bill, but said it is likely to return in some form later.

In the House version, in exchange for $50 million more from the state, the university proposed cutting the student fee increase in half and selling the state a 2,840-acre nature preserve in Dakota County.

But that property is part of a dispute over remediation of contamination from when the land was the site of a World War II gunpowder plant.

University officials said that they have been working with authorities for more than 20 years to address remediation needs and that the land slated for the swap is not a direct toxicity concern.

"We're not sitting on any kind of Love Canal or toxic twist," said Mark Rotenberg, university general counsel. "This is not an effort to foist upon the state a pig in a poke."

Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636

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