By Mike Kaszuba
The Minnesota Legislature moved closer Friday to allowing alcohol in both the premium and general seating areas of the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium.
A House-Senate conference committee approved a proposal to allow alcohol sales in the stadium's premium seating -- a move the university has wanted -- provided alcohol was also made available in at least a third of the general seating. In an attempt to get the university to accept the condition, the panel inserted language giving the school wide lattitude over where in the general seating areas that would occur.
After Friday's meeting, the conferees said they felt confident the full House and Senate would adopt the plan as early as Saturday.
University officials have not committed to the new plan, and have in the past argued that few schools -- espcially those in the Big Ten athletic conference -- allow alcohol in the general seating areas.
"I don't know if they'll embrace this," said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, a conference committee member.
In a key change from a plan that suddenly passed the House late Thursday, the new language maintains that "it is solely within the discretion"of the university to decide which general seating areas would serve alcohol. Legislators said that the language would make it possible for the school to use wrist bands, so-called beer gardens or other innovative approaches to make alcohol available in the general seating areas.
As part of the plan, 75 percent of the revenue from the alcohol sales would go to scholarships for Minnesota undergraduate students from families with annual adjusted gross incomes of less than $100,000.
The university last year prohibited alcohol sales throughout the stadium -- and in other on-campus athletic arenas -- after the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty maintained that alcohol had to be available to all ticket holders at TCF Bank Stadium, or none of them. Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virgina, who became a leading opponent of selectively offering alcohol only in the premium seats, called the university's original plan "rather elitist."
Under the new proposal that will go before the House and Senate, legislators said the plan would also apply to both the school's hockey and basketball arenas as well as non-athletic events -- such as concerts at TCF Bank Stadium -- held in those arenas.