Lawmaker says U on-campus stadium bill will pass

Than Tibbetts

After several years of lobbying for stadiums at the State Capitol, legislative leaders said Tuesday they expect lawmakers will approve stadium projects this year.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said the University now has the best chance of receiving funding for an on-campus stadium.

“It’s clear the Gophers stadium on campus has the most

appeal right now,” Johnson said.

In a forum sponsored by The Associated Press, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Johnson discussed stadium proposals, among several other issues expected to be dealt with the upcoming session.

“A stadium bill is going to pass this legislative session,” Sviggum said. “The time has come, folks, to make a decision.”

The Minnesota Twins have been asking legislators to back a new ballpark plan since the mid-1990s. Minnesota Vikings officials have also pursued a new stadium but recently claimed to have backed off their lobbying.

Sviggum said stadium bills would not be top priorities in the 2005 session.

The lawmakers said general tax dollars should not be earmarked for professional stadiums but did not rule their use for the University project.

The University has proposed building a 50,000-seat, open-air stadium in the place of the Huron Boulevard Parking Complex lots.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he was excited about the legislators’ announcement.

“We’ve put together a tremendous package, and our proposal makes sense,” he said. “It’s the right time and the right thing to do.”

Maturi said he feels confident in the support of Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.

“And having legislators speak to that point makes you feel more comfortable,” he said. “I feel very good about what were trying to do.”

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said he welcomed Johnson’s statements.

“Legislative support is key to helping us signal to people in Minnesota that the stadium is worth donating money for and supporting,” Pfutzenreuter said.

“We’re working hard to do everything on our end.”

University officials will also lobby hard at the Legislature for its academic priorities, he said.

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, has already said he will introduce an on-campus Gophers stadium bill within the first week of the legislative session, which beings Jan. 4.

Michel authored a similar bill last year, asking for the state to partially fund the project. It was not acted on in the Senate.

University officials said they will privately fund raise for a majority of the project and have proposed the state fund 40 percent of the project.

In a Board of Regents meeting last week, officials said the project’s estimated cost had increased to $235 million because of inflation. A feasibility study released last year estimated the project would cost $222 million.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.