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Minnesota Senate passes stadium bill

By Brian Bakst
?Associated Press

Die-hard Vikings fans sing after the House passed the stadium bill around 3:30 a.m. Thursday at the Capitol in St. Paul. The Senate also passed the measure, which is now headed to the governor. The $975 million stadium would put the Vikings into a new home ahead of the 2016 season. (AP Photo by Glen Stubbe/The Star Tribune)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings moved to within a governor’s signature of getting a new $975 million stadium on Thursday after the state Senate approved a plan that heavily relies on public financing.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would sign the measure, meaning the Senate’s 36-30 vote effectively was the final barrier for the stadium. The House passed it overnight.

After the Senate vote, jubilant Vikings vice president Lester Bagley hugged another team official and shouted, “Let’s build it!” Vikings fans broke out singing the “Skol Vikings” fight song and the Senate president admonished them to take it outside the chamber.

The team chased a new stadium for more than a decade but had little leverage until its lease expired this past year on the 30-year-old Metrodome. Dayton led a newly urgent charge for the team, arguing that without a new building the state could lose its most beloved franchise.

The deal guarantees the Vikings’ future in Minnesota for three decades.

The team would pay 49 percent of construction costs: $477 million, which is $50 million more than owners initially committed. But the public expense still is high: $348 million for the state and $150 million for the city of Minneapolis.

Even before the final Senate vote, it had taken on an air of inevitability after the House approved it and adjourned for the year early Thursday. Opponents conceded during the Senate debate that the bill would become law, even as they sharply criticized the state’s share backed by expanded gambling.

Supporters countered by reminding their colleagues of the pain of losing the Lakers and the North Stars to other states in past decades, and said they were inundated with messages from Vikings fans urging them to keep the team here.

“This stadium is the best interest for the state,” said Sen. Julie Rosen, a Republican who was lead sponsor of the bill. “This investment from three partners is the best for this state.”

“It’s time,” said Sen. Geoff Michel, a Republican from Edina. “It’s time for us to adopt a framework that allows us to keep a Minnesota franchise. It’s time to keep the Minnesota Vikings here so that our children and our grandchildren, yes, can wear purple.”

Sen. Scott Newman, a Republican who opposed the bill, predicted it would pass. He said the state should be spending its money instead on things such as health care, education and infrastructure.

“I know it happens across the nation, but it saddens me to think that our citizens believe that this is a wise expenditure of tax money,” Newman said.

Bagley said the team’s billionaire owners, New Jersey developers Zygi and Mark Wilf, supported the deal even though $50 million of the cost was shifted from the state to the team because time was running out. The Legislature only had two days left to act.

“It is a heavy lift, but it is the right thing to do for Minnesota,” Bagley said after the House vote.

The Vikings intend to take advantage of an NFL loan program, sell naming rights and possibly impose seat license fees to help cover the team’s end of construction costs.

Under the bill, the Vikings would sign a 30-year lease on a stadium to be built on the site of the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The team would pay about $13 million annually in operating fees, although a public authority gets the power to rent out the building on nongame days for concerts, conventions and special events. The Wilfs would get exclusive rights to recruit a professional soccer team to Minnesota.

The bill gives the Vikings the option to upgrade to a retractable roof, but at their expense. Bagley said the Vikings had not decided whether they would make that enhancement.

The state’s share was to come through expanded gambling, which some legislators opposed on principle. Others worried the state overestimated the money it would get by authorizing charitable organizations to offer electronic versions of pull tabs, a low-tech paper game offered in bars and restaurants around the state.

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