With a large crowd watching closely, the Minnesota Senate started hearings Tuesday on whether there should be a public subsidy package to help the Minnesota Vikings build a new stadium.
 
Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, who chairs the influential Senate Taxes Committee, called the hearings and was scheduled Tuesday to hear testimony from the Vikings and others regarding the team’s plan to build a $1.1 billion stadium in Ramsey County ‘s Arden Hills.
 
As the hearing started, Ortman reminded the crowd that "we won't be taking any votes."
 
But she quickly added: "This is the 'People's Hearing' today."
 
However the first part of the hearing was dominated by presentations by the Vikings and Ted Mondale, Gov. Mark Dayton' lead stadium negotiator.
 
As the Vikings described their stadium plan at the hearing, a woman visible through a set of glass doors held up a sign outside the hearing room that read, "Housing Before Stadiums".
 
Lester Bagley, the Vikings lead spokesman, told the panel that the team is woven into the state's social fabric and has long been seeking to replace the 29-year-old Metrodome.  "It's a facility that doesn't work for the state," he said. "It's dicey getting through the (narrow) concourses."
 
In the sharpest exchange at Tuesday's stadium hearing, Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, told Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak that the city might be too late in getting the new stadium built in Minneapolis.
 
The exchange came after both the Vikings and Ramsey County detailed their preliminary agreement Tuesday at the hearing to build a stadium in Arden Hills.
 
"There's some who would say you're a little late to the dance here," said Michel to the Minneapolis mayor. "What are you waiting for?"
 
Michel and others also said that Minneapolis, in offering three downtown sites for a new stadium, needed to support just one site.
 
"You got three, you really got none," said Michel.
 
A second hearing is scheduled for Dec. 6, and Ortman said the panel would afterward “determine if there is consensus for further action.”
 
Steve Carlson drove 90 miles from Rice, Minn., to be at Tuesday's Senate stadium hearing.  "It doesn't appear there's much time to get this done," said Carlson, wearing a purple Vikings fleece and waiting in a line to get into the Senate hearing room. "We've waited around long enough" for a new stadium.
 
As the hearing room was opened and the crowd filed in, an unidentified woman repeatedly chanted "Make Zygi Pay!" -- a reference to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.
 
It is unclear what the hearings will yield since there is no legislative proposal to help fund the project, which has been in limbo for much of the year. Still the hearings at the state Capitol are the first on the long-debated stadium project since 2010.
 
The hearings come after Gov. Mark Dayton spent much of the fall trying to muster support – without success – for a special legislative session to consider the Vikings stadium issue. Republicans, who hold majorities in both the House and Senate, have generally balked at the need for a special session.
 
The team’s lease at the Metrodome expires at the end of the 2011 season, and the Vikings insist they are not interested in renewing it.
 
However some legislators have dismissed the stadium’s urgency, especially with the state still reeling from a recession and budget deficits.
 
In addition, others have argued that the team is legally bound to play in the Metrodome in 2012 because the Vikings last year played two home games elsewhere when the facility’s inflatable roof collapsed.  Because of that, they argue, the team’s Metrodome lease is automatically extended by one year.
 

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