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Vikings: Stadium vote delay will boost construction costs

By Brian Bakst
Associated Press

St. Paul, Minn. — A Minnesota Vikings executive warned Wednesday that delaying until next year a Legislature vote on financing for a new stadium would increase the project’s already hefty cost and would leave the football franchise without a lease binding it to Minnesota.

Vice President Lester Bagley reaction came to newly voiced opposition from House Speaker Kurt Zellers to an emergency session. Zellers told his 71 GOP colleagues in an email Tuesday night that the issue should wait until lawmakers convene the 2012 session in late January.

Bagley stopped short of saying the team would pull up stakes, but noted that after this season the Vikings “will be the only team without a lease.”

“The strategy of avoiding a stadium issue has not worked,” Bagley said. “It only gets more costly and more difficult to resolve, especially if they allow the lease to expire with no action.

The Vikings have four remaining home games in their Metrodome lease. Whispers of relocation have been present throughout the stadium discussion, but there has been little outward recruiting of the Vikings by Los Angeles or other cities seeking an NFL presence.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has said he was prepared to call a special session this month or next on the stadium. But a financing plan remains undefined.

The Vikings have sought a replacement for the Metrodome for years, saying the Minneapolis venue no longer is sufficiently profitable. The team prefers building a new facility in the St. Paul suburb of Arden Hills but Minneapolis leaders are promoting three sites of their own.

Such a project is expected to cost between $900 million and $1.1 billion depending on where it gets built. The team wants taxpayers to shoulder more than half of the cost. Bagley said winning authorization this year would enable builders to start a 40-month construction schedule sooner and have the stadium ready for the 2015 season. Delaying construction adds $50 million a year, according to a consultant’s estimate.

Dayton hoped to speak with Zellers about the timing for a special session, the governor’s spokesman said.

Michael Brodkorb, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, said she also wanted to confer with the House speaker before commenting. She previously has been open to a fall special session.

Dayton doesn’t need the Legislature’s consent to call a special session, but lawmakers determine how long it lasts once they’re back in St. Paul. Governors typically avoid calling a session without mutual agreement on an agenda.

The state leaders frequently have met about how to structure a public subsidy. Dayton plans to release his own proposal next week.

One possible option fell away when Dayton and lawmakers effectively ruled out new local sales taxes to pay for a share of the expected stadium cost. They said a sales tax lacked the votes to pass the Legislature unless a public referendum is required; the earliest a referendum could be held in November 2012 and the Vikings oppose one.

Discussions in recent days have focused on expanded gambling. There are several possibilities: authorizing a casino in downtown Minneapolis; adding video slot machines at two horse-racing tracks near the Twin Cities; allowing bars and restaurants to shift from offering paper pull-tab gambling cards to electronic ones; and selling themed scratch-off lottery tickets.

The pull-tab plan, which also envisions a bingo component, appears to have the most traction. Legislative researchers estimate it would raise as much as $42 million a year.

“I think the electronic pull-tabs probably has the most promise at this point in terms of drawing enough support in the Legislature,” Dayton said. “My sense is that’s probably the most immediately available and plausible source right now.”

Another possible approach would be to divert money from the state’s “Legacy” sales tax, which was approved by voters in 2008 to dedicate money to arts and cultural programs, outdoor preservation and clean water initiatives. Dayton said that would not be his preferred approach but that he is not ready to rule it out either.

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