Panel rejects shared stadium

Stadium committee members said the state might still fund a Gophers-only facility.

Molly Moker

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s Stadium Screening Committee decided Thursday it will not recommend a joint stadium between the Gophers and the Minnesota Vikings in their initial proposal to the governor.

Committee members said that because of competing goals and missions between the two teams it would not make sense to combine them in one venue.

Last Tuesday the committee narrowed 10 stadium options down to four plans: two for the Minnesota Twins and two for the Vikings. These four plans will be the committee’s first recommendations to the governor.

However, committee members said this does not eliminate the possibility of state funding for a Gophers-only stadium, should one be built.

Committee member Rep. Steve Strachan, R-Farmington, said the University was left out of the committee’s first proposal because the Twins’ and Vikings’ stadiums would be full-profit stadiums and can collect county and city revenue. Being a state institution, the University is in a different position.

But Strachan said it would be in the state’s favor to fund a Gophers stadium along with stadiums for the Twins and Vikings. He said because the University has the power to issue government bonds to the public at low interest rates, various groups could loan money to fund the stadium and would then be able to collect high interest rates at the state’s expense.

“The University has been very upfront during this whole process,” Strachan said. “They told us that they don’t want us to forget about them, but at the end of the day, they are going to build their stadium with or without us.”

Strachan said the University’s request is reasonable.

“The University has made a commitment to raise so much of the funding they need privately,” Strachan said. “I will be very surprised if there will not be a bill that will give some money to the University this session.”

Committee member Rep. Connie Ruth, R-Owatonna, said she agrees the committee will likely propose University stadium funding separately.

“The majority of the committee has made it clear that they want to go ahead and fund three stadiums,” Ruth said. “The big factor is how do we finance three stadiums?”

Ruth said the possibility of the Gophers having their own stadium will be discussed more today.

Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, said he was impressed by the way the University mapped out its funding proposal and said he wants to help finance a Gophers stadium.

“There will be interest in helping the University out in the future,” Solberg said. “The University is one stadium that has identified some very excitable funding in their proposal.”

University chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter submitted a final letter to the committee Wednesday after it requested additional information on how the University would fund a stadium.

In his letter, Pfutzenreuter said the University would raise $133 million – 60 percent of the funding. An additional $89.2 million would need to come from outside sources.

Pfutzenreuter said the committee received the proposal positively and showed interest in supporting an on-campus stadium.

“A lot of members felt the University’s proposal was very modest and realistic,” he said. “It was very positive.”

However, Pfutzenreuter said, it is too early to know what the committee’s final proposal will entail.

“At this point, they have decided to leave the University out of it,” he said. “Whether we get in that bill or not all depends on how the committee can find a way to finance multiple stadiums.”

The committee will approve its final recommendations Thursday and present them to the governor Feb. 2.

The committee will then dissolve, and Pawlenty will decide what he wants to fund. His bill will then go through the Legislature.

The committee is allowed to present as many proposals to the governor as it wishes, but so far the four site proposals for the Vikings and Twins are the only ones that will go through for sure.

Pfutzenreuter said the University will remain available to the committee and to the governor while the final recommendations and bills are drafted.

“Oftentimes these are last-minute decisions,” Pfutzenreuter said. “The University will continue to develop financial strategies for funding and we’ll be present whenever (the committee) needs us.”