Stadium closer to reality for U

Megan Kadrmas

The University has cleared another legislative hurdle, bringing an on-campus stadium one step closer to realization, University officials and stadium supporters said Wednesday.

The state House Ways and Means Committee, the last House committee to review a stadium bill, passed it Wednesday morning.

The bill will go to the House floor today, said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, who is co-author of the Senate version of the bill.

“It’s been an exciting two weeks for the University stadium effort. I think we’re getting closer to the end zone,” he said.

Hopes remain high for the University as well. University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said the department is excited by the news from the Capitol.

“This is something that we think is very much needed for the University, for our athletics program and, we’d like to think, for the state,” he said.

The bill passed by a strong-voice vote, according to Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, who is a ranking committee member.

Maturi and Michel said they hope the outcome of a whole-House vote will be in the University’s favor.

“I think there is a wide bipartisan majority (supporting the bill). I think people believe that this is a win for the University in that the University would get a new stadium on campus, and that it’s a win for the state,” Michel said.

The biggest change made to the bill since its March 13 introduction is an exchange with the state of almost 3,000 acres of UMore Park near Rosemount in return for more state funding.

“There is a little concern (in the House) about the things in the land deal, the covenants that are there,” Solberg said.

Michel, however, said the state will benefit from the acquisition of this land in the long run.

“State taxpayers (win) because we would now have access to a new state reserve and this wonderful piece of land down in Dakota County,” he said.

If the bill passes through the House, attention will be directed toward the Senate, where two versions are waiting to be heard in the Finance Committee.

The bill passing by a large margin in the House would be a good sign for reception on the Senate floor, Maturi said.

“(Legislators) represent people in the state of Minnesota. The House has one constituency and the Senate has the same – although different geographic boundaries,” Maturi said.

Under the current version of the bill, the state is slated to pay $9.4 million a year for 25 years. The payments would begin next year and would help finance the $248 million open-air stadium.

TCF Bank still would have naming rights to the stadium under the House proposal, which differs from a Senate bill seeking to eliminate corporate naming rights.

The movement around stadium proposals in the Legislature this week brings the building closer to construction, Michel said.

“I would say, in football terms, that we are first-and-goal and we’re going to get this in the end zone.”