Stadium bill stalls in State Legislature

by Than Tibbetts

Minnesota’s first government shutdown has come and gone, 8,900 state workers are back on the job and legislators are finalizing the final four of the state’s major budget bills.

Amid the chaos of the state’s legislative breakdown are University officials’ hopes for a new on-campus football stadium, trumped by the necessity of passing billion-dollar budget bills.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he hopes the Legislature will take on the Gophers stadium bill in the special session. Without action, the stadium project could miss its projected opening and result in lost revenues for the University.

“It’s my understanding that if they don’t pass our bill in this immediate session that that probably would delay the stadium for at least a year,” he said. “It’s certainly not what we’d like, it’s not what we want, but we’re a little bit at their mercy.”

The proposed $235 million on-campus stadium is projected to open in time for the 2008 football season. University officials want the state to pay 40 percent, or $94 million, of the project, while the remainder is funded by fund-raising, student fees and parking revenues.

Chief author of the Gophers stadium bill, Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said he is doing what he can to get something done this week while the Legislature is still in session.

“Well, I think the football version of this is we are first down, on the 10-yard line, but time is running out,” he said. “But I’m reasonably optimistic.”

Michel said he would like to take the stadium bill straight to discussion on the floors of both houses.

“I don’t think it’d have to take more than 20 minutes on the Senate floor,” he said. “I can’t speak for the House that quickly, but I really believe this is something people feel comfortable with.”

University project manager Brian Swanson said University officials will have to reassess their situation once they know what the Legislature is doing.

“I don’t know that we’ve had time to work through that yet – if nothing happens – what the next steps are,” he said.

Hiring a project manager and an architect are the next steps on the University’s stadium timeline, and a lack of action could put those steps off for months.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he doubts lawmakers will deal with stadium issues before heading home, though he left open the possibility of a second special session.

The dynamic of discussions at the State Capitol could change if the Gophers bill is lumped with bills for the Minnesota Twins and Vikings, but opinions vary on what affect that would have.

Michel said the political dynamic would be “really difficult.”

“I like running on a separate track from those guys,” he said. “Those (bills) are much more controversial.”

Maturi was more optimistic.

“Nothing hurts us if they pass a bill. The proposal we have put together has been solid from day one,” he said.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.