House divided on U stadium

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said a divided House will benefit the University in 2005.

Than Tibbetts

While some University officials and state legislators have expressed extreme optimism over the prospects of an on-campus stadium bill next year, others might give the project a political “Not so fast” if the bill goes to the House and Senate floors.

After the Nov. 2 elections, 68 Republicans and 66 Democrats sit in the House of Representatives, although a recount could make the divide even.

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said that although such a split could cause problems, he thinks an evenly divided House will benefit the University in the 2005 legislative session. It will force legislators to work together, he said.

“I believe that it’s a net positive for the Gopher stadium,” he said of the proposed $222 million project.

Last year, Michel was the chief author of a stadium bill in the State Senate that eventually died with the 2004 legislative session. The Republican’s bill had four co-authors. Three were Democrats.

“I think the fact is that the House is more evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “And I just think that the atmosphere of the Legislature is going to change.”

Michel said an on-campus Gophers stadium already enjoys bipartisan support in the State Legislature, something Athletics Director Joel Maturi also said.

“When we went to the Legislature last spring, we had tremendous reception from bipartisan folks,” Maturi said. “I don’t believe any change in personnel in the Legislature will change the positive reception.”

However, representatives on both sides of the political swing set said pigskin is not a priority in the Legislature.

Newly elected Rep. Ruth Johnson, DFL-St. Peter, said dealing with a budget deficit while funding other programs is the main priority.

“Our highest concern will be providing funding for all

three levels of education in the state – early childhood, K-12 and higher education,” she said. “Educational programs will have highest priority over facilities or other amenities.”

Another representative-elect, Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said he would love to see an on-campus Gophers stadium. But, on the issue of whether the state should pay for a stadium, Dean’s response was a resounding “No.”

“It just comes down to priorities. We need to fund our priorities within our means,” he said. “For this budget cycle, I don’t see a stadium in the mix.”

Sen. Sharon Marko, DFL-Cottage Grove, said that despite the issues the Legislature faces, she is hopeful it will rally around the need for an on-campus stadium.

“It’s simply the right thing to do, and the right time to do it,” she said.

Searching for donors

Maturi said his department is continuing to meet with potential stadium donors and recent donor visits have been very well-received.

The athletics department is also in the process of searching for corporate sponsors interested in stadium naming rights, he said.

“We have a strategy to meet with eight to 10 Minnesota corporations,” Maturi said. “The hard thing is you can only visit one person at a time.”

He said the top four or five corporate donors will have to be secured before construction begins on the stadium project.

University officials have proposed paying for 60 percent of the stadium’s cost, with the rest of the money coming from the state.

Johnson said that if that plan were feasible, she would want to know how much of the state’s share would be in comparison to what the state is putting into financial aid.

But, she said, “One always keeps an open mind.”