U might ask state for stadium money if pro teams do

The University might find itself the only Metrodome tenant if the Vikings and Twins find new homes.

Branden Peterson

Funding for academic projects, not an on-campus stadium, will be the University’s top priority in the 2004 legislative session.

But while the University has not determined whether the project will continue, officials are prepared to discuss a Gophers-only, on-campus stadium with lawmakers if the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings pursue state money for stadiums.

“We want to be prepared so that we’re making sure that we can have conversations,” University lobbyist Donna Peterson said. “We’re not asking them to build us a stadium.”

University President Bob Bruininks has said several times this year that if an on-campus stadium is constructed, it will rely significantly on private funding.

Peterson said she has discussed a Gophers-only stadium with legislators a few times and has received mixed opinions about the possible University project.

It should be clear, Peterson said, that the University has not pushed the issue with state lawmakers.

With the Twins and the Vikings both tapping lawmakers’ shoulders for public stadium funding, the University must be a part of the equation when lawmakers try to work out stadium funding decisions, said Rep. Doug Stang, R-Cold Spring.

If the University wants public money for a stadium, the school must make it clear it wants state support and not worry so much about conflicts, Stang said.

“At some point, the University officials are going to have to make a decision if there is something to fight for,” he said. “They have to make it clear what they want.”

Legislators see a problem of where future Gophers football teams will play, Peterson said.

On one hand, the University might find itself as the only Metrodome tenant if the Vikings and Twins find new homes. Both teams have expressed interest in new stadiums.

But if the Gophers become the primary Metrodome tenant, officials worry costs to play at the arena might increase substantially.

Another concern is that the Gophers’ contract obligation to play football games at the Metrodome expires in 2011. University officials have said the process of planning, fund raising, constructing and opening a new stadium would probably take at least four years.

Officials have said they want to protect against unforeseen complications or delays that might leave the Gophers without a place to play.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, said the idea of funding an on-campus University stadium has not been discussed.

“At the Legislature, if the University stadium is on the table, it’s way out on the end of the table,” he said.

Democrats are concerned budget cuts at the University have hurt the institution badly, so addressing its core academic needs will receive priority, Entenza said.

Whether it is done in 2004, 2014 or 2034, balancing discussion on a stadium will always conflict with academic needs, said House Speaker Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon.

“There’s no way you can equate the need of a stadium with a hospital or a lab,” Sviggum said. “On the other hand, a Big Ten institution needs athletics as part of its

mission too.”