Committee OKs public funds for stadium if U raises $133M

A bill including state funding for an on-campus, Gophers-only football stadium narrowly passed a House committee Tuesday.

The plan calls for the state to provide 40 percent – or $89 million – after the University contributes $133 million toward the total project cost.

Taxes Committee Chairman Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, authored an amendment that added the Gophers plan to a professional stadiums bill calling for up to $1.1 billion in public money.

After seven days of discussion, the Taxes Committee passed the stadium bill on a 15-13 vote.

University chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the bill is an important first step toward a Gophers stadium.

“In a sense, this does launch us on the way to bring Gophers football back to campus,” Pfutzenreuter said. “But we have more work to do and another hoop to jump through once we’ve raised the $133 million.”

Abrams voted against the bill, but said he thought it was important to include the Gophers stadium amendment. If the Twins and Vikings leave the Metrodome, it would cost the University too much to stay there, he said.

“Obviously, the Gophers athletics department does not have that sort of money available to keep the Metrodome open,” Abrams said. “So if you’re going to have to spend $5 million to $7 million anyway, aren’t you better off buying new on campus?”

Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, voted for the Gophers stadium amendment but against the bill as a whole. She said she supports building stadiums, but would rather see money go toward other programs such as higher education.

“It didn’t seem appropriate to me at this time that we would take state tax dollars and fund professional sports as opposed to all the other priorities we have that we’re not addressing,” Lenczewski said.

The bill now advances to the Ways and Means Committee – the last stop before debate on the House floor.

The bill’s author, Rep. Doug Stang, R-Cold Spring, said it faces another tough battle in the Ways and Means Committee.

“It will probably be close,” Stang said. “It will be close all the way through.”

If the bill passes, the University could be back at the Legislature as soon as the next legislative session, assuming the University has secured its necessary contribution, Pfutzenreuter said.

If the bill fails, the Gophers stadium issue would be dead in the House for this session, Stang said.

“The outlook would be to continue playing in the Metrodome until we figure out what we’re going to do to fund it,” he said.

A Gophers stadium bill in the Senate receives its first committee hearing today. The plan calls for the University to contribute 75 percent of the stadium cost, with the state providing the remaining 25 percent.

But the University will ask for a plan similar to the House proposal, with the state paying 40 percent of the stadium cost, Pfutzenreuter said.