Senate gives U option on alcohol

An amendment to a Senate bill would allow the U to sell alcohol in stadium premium seating.

James Nord

The Minnesota Senate passed a measure Tuesday allowing the University of Minnesota to sell alcohol selectively to premium ticket holders at sports facilities, including TCF Bank Stadium. An amendment authored by Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, to the SenateâÄôs omnibus higher education bill would allow the University to revisit its previous practice of only allowing alcohol in premium seating areas. Last year, the Legislature forced an all-or-nothing policy on the University that also included Mariucci and Williams arenas. The University opted to cut alcohol sales altogether. But declining state aid, including a $36 million cut to the UniversityâÄôs budget, has caused some lawmakers, including Pappas, chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, to rethink their approach. âÄúI donâÄôt think itâÄôs a good idea for us to add insult to injury and continue to restrict the amount of dollars that can be made from having a liquor license,âÄù Pappas said. The University loses approximately $1 million to $1.3 million annually because of the law, both in lackluster premium seating returns and the loss of actual sales, Pappas said. Sales represent a smaller portion of the lost revenue. The real loss comes in the form of devalued premium seating. Because the alcohol sales had been included in the University athletics departmentâÄôs 2010 budget, the University had agreed to bridge the revenue gap with a one-time payment to the athletics department of up to $1 million. Athletics department spokesman Garry Bowman said the estimated loss for athletics for fiscal year 2010 would be between $650,000 and $800,000. The legislation passed Tuesday could help with the shortfall, as the University would be willing to re-examine the issue if the legislation passes, President Bob Bruininks said in a previous Minnesota Daily interview. However, the University has no specific stance on the legislation. Under the bill, revenue from alcohol sales would be split between athletics scholarships and lowering the student fees that help pay down the stadiumâÄôs debt, after an amendment from Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, passed on the floor. A portion of TomassoniâÄôs amendment that was eventually discarded would have kept the all-or-nothing provision at the stadium but rescinded the restrictions at Mariucci and Williams, as those locations were inadvertently included, he said. The difference between the two arenas and the stadium has to do with the fact that alcohol had previously been sold at the Metrodome, Tomassoni said. The bill easily cleared all of the hurdles before it in the Senate as well as the floor, but it is set to hit a wall in the House, Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said. âÄúItâÄôs DOA [dead on arrival], as far as IâÄôm concerned,âÄù said Rukavina, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. If the HouseâÄôs omnibus bill passes without the provision, lawmakers from both the House and Senate would need to decide if it would be included in a joint bill. Rukavina opposes the provision because the alcohol would only be available to certain sections, and he originally introduced the ban last session. âÄúItâÄôd be different if that damn Gophers stadium was paid for by those wealthy folks up in the expensive suites or âĦ paid for by a bunch of big shots, but it wasnâÄôt,âÄù Rukavina said. âÄúThe majority of that stadium was paid for by the taxpayers of Minnesota, all of us, and all of us deserve to be treated fairly.âÄù