House hears arena pitch

University officials urged a House panel Monday to fund a campus stadium.

The University made its strongest push for an on-campus, Gophers-only football stadium Monday at the Capitol.

Despite not having a formal bill in the House, various University officials – including University President Bob Bruininks, Athletics Director Joel Maturi and football coach Glen Mason – made the case for a stadium to the House taxes committee.

Several legislators expressed support for a Gophers stadium, saying they would vote for a Gophers stadium before professional teams’ stadiums. Maturi said the committee’s reaction was encouraging.

“I’ve always felt that what we have to say is very positive and very practical,” he said. “I think the committee saw that today.”

The University is asking the state to cover 40 percent of the proposed stadium’s $222 million cost. The remaining 60 percent would come from private donors, corporate sponsorships and increased student fees.

Gerald Fisher, University of Minnesota Foundation president, said $40 million to $60 million could be garnered from private donors.

Bruininks told the committee the University would raise funds for its portion before the state would provide funding. But Bruininks said a commitment from the Legislature could help jumpstart fund-raising efforts.

“If the Legislature does its part, we will do ours,” he said. “Together we can make this a reality.”

Some legislators expressed concern that funding a stadium could detract from the University’s academic goals.

“If this stadium ran a serious risk of eroding the academic infrastructure of the University of Minnesota, I would not support it,” Bruininks said.

Minnesota Student Association President Eric Dyer also addressed the committee. He spoke about MSA’s resolution to allow a student fees contribution of up to $50 per semester per student for the stadium.

“We thought this was fitting for students to step forward first – not as the first to pay for the stadium, but to be the first to say we want a stadium and we’re willing to help pay for it,” Dyer said.

Committee member Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, recommended increasing the state’s contribution to cut the student fee commitment in half. Chairman Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, said the increased cost could jeopardize a bill’s passage and said student fees should be left to the University to decide.

University chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said if the institution acquired more donations than expected, it would be used to alleviate students’ contributions.

Abrams said he introduced the University’s testimony to contrast the professional stadium bill. A Gophers stadium would be necessary if the Minnesota Twins and Vikings left the Metrodome, he said.

“This comes closest to the model we ought to be looking at for the University,” Abrams said.

Rep. Doug Stang, R-Cold Spring, said he will introduce a Gophers stadium bill later this week. Stang, who also authored the professional stadium bill, said a committee member could introduce the bill as an amendment to the professional stadium bill.

The Gophers stadium bill would be the House counterpart to a bill Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, proposed, calling for 75 percent funding from the University and 25 percent from the state.

Michel also said his bill could be combined with the professional stadiums bill in the Senate.

The Senate bill has not yet received a committee hearing. The Senate is waiting to see what happens in the House before acting on any stadium legislation, Michel said.

The hearing’s audience included University students, faculty, boosters, alumni, Board of Regents Chairman David Metzen, and men’s and women’s hockey coaches Don Lucia and Laura Halldorson.