Legislature says joint stadium with Vikings is not a priority

Brad Unangst

Indicating that funding a Gophers-Vikings stadium is not a priority in the upcoming legislative session, Minnesota state legislators said it will be difficult to approve any public financing without a major monetary contribution from the owner of the NFL team.

Vikings officials confirmed Monday owner Red McCombs rescinded a year-old offer to provide $100 million toward the construction of a proposed $500 million, on-campus stadium. They said the size of the team’s contribution will depend on how revenue from a new stadium will be shared with the University.

“Once you take away the ownership putting in a big portion of the money, I would automatically say it just isn’t going to work,” said Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna. “None of us, I don’t think, are going to go for that.”

In May, the Legislature required the University and the Vikings complete a stadium predesign and reach an agreement on the shared use of the stadium. Both plans are scheduled to be presented to lawmakers in December before public financing options will be discussed.

Officials from both organizations have recently expressed some difficulty reaching the agreement on control of a new stadium – including the revenue split – with the deadline looming.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the project cannot go forward without a Vikings contribution.

With initial stadium predesign estimates nearing $600 million – a figure that University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said is too high for the institution – the organizations will need state support to finalize construction of the 68,000-seat stadium.

But facing an estimated $3 billion state deficit and decisions on how to address issues such as education and transportation, legislators said finding extra money to make up for a lower-than-anticipated contribution is not going to be easy.

Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, D-St. Peter, said the state is not going to build a stadium that will significantly increase the team’s value no matter how much McCombs is willing to contribute.

“If he wants to gain interest, he should be increasing his contribution, not withdrawing it,” Hottinger said.

Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie and House majority leader, said McCombs’ actions could have a major effect on any future stadium.

Paulsen compared McCombs’ offer to an offer Twins owner Carl Pohlad made in 1997 of $80 million toward a new baseball stadium. The state’s interest in a stadium dwindled after learning Pohlad’s contribution was a loan.

He said incidents such as that and McCombs’ latest move might make the public suspicious that owners are not truly interested in contributing funding to any new stadiums.

“(Pohlad’s loan) left kind of a sour taste in everyone’s mouth and created that negative public perception and a hurdle to climb. It took years and years to pass anything in the Legislature,” Paulsen said.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, D-St. Paul, and Republican Governor-elect Tim Pawlenty did not return phone calls.

For any deal to be reached this session, Day said the Legislature would need stronger commitments from both the University and the Vikings.

The University’s Board of Regents must say the stadium is a priority, and McCombs must keep the team in Minnesota and put money into the project, Day said.

“At that stage of the game, then we all would start looking for ways, – whether it be user fees or a different type of ticket tax – to help out,” Day said.

Regents have been reluctant to publicly push for the stadium, saying that protecting the University’s academic programs and faculty, staff and students is their first concern.

Vikings Stadium Consultant Lester Bagley has said if a stadium were built, the Vikings would have no need to leave town.

The University and the Vikings have until Nov. 27 to work out their differences over operating the stadium. If an agreement is not reached, the Legislature would most likely decide who would control the stadium – if they approve funding for it.

But legislators said finding a solution to the stadium issue is low on their agenda this session.

“We’ll just see how it works out,” Day said, adding that it would be in the best interest for the University and the Vikings to reach an agreement before the session begins in January.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]