After years of dealing and debate, Vikings get their biggest win

Senate's stadium bill OK ended string of long nights, closed-door dealing.

Ending a decade of turmoil, the Minnesota Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a $975 million Vikings stadium meant to anchor the team in Minneapolis for a generation.

The vote ended a turbulent session that saw the project nearly die several times, only to get revived and then dominate the Legislature's final weeks, as opponents ultimately succumbed to intense pressure.

"We delivered," said a triumphant Sen. Julie Rosen, the stadium bill's sponsor, as purple-clad, horn-wearing fans cheered wildly from the gallery overhead. "We are going to have a first-class stadium we can all be very, very proud of."

The 36-30 vote in the Senate came only after the Minnesota House sweated out an overnight session in which bare-knuckled bargaining sessions went on past midnight and final approval came at 4 a.m.

In the end, a cluster of GOP lawmakers in both bodies joined forces with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, business and labor leaders to muscle the proposal through.

The plan moves to the Minneapolis City Council later this month. A council majority has already committed itself to the deal, so that vote appears unlikely to be a stumbling block.

Thursday evening, Dayton, facing a packed room of supporters and legislators, was eager to give credit to others.

"This was such an incredible team effort all the way through," he said. Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning, the chief House author, were "absolutely heroic," Dayton said.

As jubilant fans poured through the Capitol singing "Skol, Vikings," team owner Zygi Wilf flew to the Twin Cities to celebrate passage of one of the largest building projects in state history, accompanied by his brother, team President Mark Wilf.

In a late development that secured the last handful of votes, legislative negotiators insisted on boosting the team's share by another $50 million to lower the taxpayers' share. The team will pay $477 million -- just under half the total cost. Early plans had the public subsidy at more than 60 percent.

"I wouldn't have wanted to go in here today without that additional $50 million," Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said before the vote.

The final agreement came together in secret Wednesday as top legislators, team executives, state business leaders and the Dayton administration pounded out the final disagreements over the size of the team's contribution and whether to impose a menu of stadium-related taxes to pay the state's share.

Negotiators retained a much-criticized expansion of charitable gambling to pay the state's $348 million contribution. Minneapolis' $150 million share is unchanged, but the city now can use excess sales tax money to renovate its aging Target Center.

Legislators also brought back a provision that gives the Vikings exclusive rights to recruit a professional soccer team to the state, a franchise that could help pay for a retractable roof.

2016 opening

The team plans to play its 2016 season in the new stadium, which will sit on the site of the old Metrodome, but on a considerably larger piece of land featuring a large sports plaza for tailgating.

The jubilant feelings in the Capitol were countered by some searing, bipartisan criticism from those on the losing side of the debate.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, who battled to replace gambling with user fees, said he is upset that the final deal was put together in private by legislators who took care not to violate the letter of the open meetings laws. "Isn't it about not violating the spirit of the laws?" he asked.

Howe said he is convinced gambling revenue will fall short. "There will be an I-told-you-so moment," he said.

As a backup, the plan would impose a series of "blink-on" stadium taxes should revenue from the new electronic pulltabs and bingo fall short of covering the state's share. Those taxes -- which include a 10 percent tax on luxury suites -- would be limited to stadiumgoers. Also part of the backup is a sports-themed lottery game expected to bring in at least $2.1 million a year.

Legislators have fought for months over whether and where to situate a replacement to the Metrodome, one of the oldest facilities in the country housing an NFL team.

After a grinding week and overnight floor sessions, even the strongest critics grudgingly conceded there was little they could do to stop the stadium.

Sen. Benjamin Kruse resorted to paraphrasing country singer Kenny Rogers.

"Time to walk away, the dealing has been done -- and we lost," said Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park.

Tax bill action

The stadium bill was not the only source of drama in the final hours.

Overnight, the Senate also passed a $46 million package of business tax breaks. The vote came less than a week after Dayton vetoed a larger package that would have blown a $200 million hole in the state budget in coming years.

The package includes a one-year freeze on statewide business property taxes, tax breaks for small companies when they buy equipment and tax credits for companies that hire veterans. It will add slightly to future deficits.

"You knew when you were putting this together that the governor was going to veto it," said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm. "Why would you bring a veto-bait bill to the governor's desk when there are so many good things for so many members in here?"

Dayton's staff said he has not had time to review the bill, but he will give it full consideration.

After the stadium vote, Rosen stood in the half-empty building and said the fight, at times, tested her resolve to run for re-election. She battled the team, Dayton's administration and her fellow Republicans.

As evening approached, Rosen was not interested in reliving the day.

All she wanted, she said, was a beer.

baird.helgeson@startribune.com • 651-925-5044 jennifer.brooks@startribune.com • 651-925-5049

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