Panel OKs U stadium bill

The unanimous Senate panel would give the University $56 million, subject to the ‘U’ raising funds.

An on-campus, Gophers-only stadium bill, including a provision to ensure students receive tangible benefits, unanimously passed a State Senate committee Wednesday.

The bill calls for the state to contribute $56 million of the stadium’s $222 million cost. The funding would begin after the University provides its $166 million contribution.

On Tuesday, the State House passed a bill for professional sports stadiums, which includes a Gophers stadium amendment. That plan calls for a $133 million contribution from the University and $89 million from the state.

With the Twins and Vikings looking to leave the Metrodome, a new Gophers stadium is needed, Senate bill author Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said. The bill calls for minimal state participation, he said.

“The state would be a limited partner,” he said. “It is indeed the University that would have to do the heavy lifting.”

Several senators expressed support for the bill.

Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, said the Legislature should approve funding for a Gophers stadium before professional stadiums.

“Nothing against the Twins or Vikings, but this is ours – the University of Minnesota is ours,” Vickerman said.

Sen. Sharon Marko, DFL-Cottage Grove, said she supports the Senate plan and thinks the University could raise more than $166 million of the stadium cost.

University President Bob Bruininks said any additional money beyond that amount should be used to reduce student contribution.

The Minnesota Student Association recently passed a resolution with a $50 cap in student fees contributions per student per semester.

Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-North St. Paul, offered an amendment to the bill calling for the University to present a plan to give students affordable access to University events at the stadium.

Some senators criticized the amendment, saying the University could be trusted to provide such benefits without legislative involvement, but Wiger said it was an important addition.

“We have to define this promise,” he said. “(Students) deserve it and I think they expect no less.”

The amendment passed on a voice vote.

After the meeting, MSA President Eric Dyer said the committee’s interest in student issues was encouraging.

“I am grateful for how student-oriented the discussion was,” he said. “I think the state will jump on the bandwagon because they see that students are leading the charge.”

Michel said student involvement is important for the bill’s passage.

“I think the Legislature is impressed that students are ready to contribute and step up on this plan,” he said. “I think that makes the Legislature want to step up, too.”

The bill now advances to the finance committee.

Even if the House bill fails, Michel said he thinks a Gophers stadium plan will get done this session.

“If there’s a majority of senators who support it and a majority of representatives who support it, we’ll get it done somehow,” he said.