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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published March 01 2012

WITH AUDIO: Vikings stadium deal just a beginning

ST. PAUL – Smiles surrounding a Minnesota Vikings stadium announcement seemed to indicate victory, but in reality they represented something else: a beginning.

“Now, the real work begins, persuading a majority of the Minneapolis City Council and the Minnesota Legislature to approve this agreement,” Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday.

Dayton was surrounded by legislators, Minneapolis leaders and Vikings officials as they unveiled a deal that could lead to a new $975 million downtown Minneapolis stadium to be used by the Vikings, monster truck rallies, soccer games, concerts and other types of events such venues host.

Those broad smiles belied work that lies ahead in the Legislature and council. Both bodies must approve stadium plans, and both have many members opposed to the proposal.

The 13-page page agreement spells out what the state, city and team are expected to do and pay, the first time such an agreement has been written in detail. That is good news, said one of Minnesota’s most experienced politicians.

Roger Moe of Erskine, a state senator for 32 years and majority leader for 22 years, stood in the background Thursday, knowing the document was a significant advancement.

“At least, there is something there,” Moe said. “That is what the Legislature needed.”

For a decade, and even during intense negotiations in recent weeks, most Minnesotans only knew general information about a stadium. Now there are details, and key lawmakers will draft a specific bill in coming days.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, who first talked to the Vikings about a stadium more than eight years ago, said getting to this point has been difficult. The Moorhead Republican, lead representative on the stadium, added: “The time has come for Minnesota to make a decision.”

“We believe we have a plan now that stands the best chance of getting legislative approval,” Lanning said.

Sen. Julie Rosen, the lead Senate stadium author, said the Thursday announcement is a “handoff” of work from negotiators who worked behind closed doors to legislators who will hold public committee hearings.

The state, Vikings and Minneapolis would share construction costs.

The $398 million from the state, up from $300 million Dayton said last year he could support, would come from new revenues predicted from allowing pull-tab and bingo games to use electronic devices. The proposal also would increase the take charities around the state now receive from current cardboard games.

Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf pledge $427 million in what they call “private” contributions from the team, but on Thursday they refused to say whether some of that would come from the National Football League and other sources outside of the Vikings.

Minneapolis would contribute $150 million toward construction costs from existing city sales taxes.

The stadium would sit on some of the space now occupied by the Metrodome, the downtown Minneapolis facility that has hosted the Vikings for nearly three decades.

Dayton said the project would put 8,000 construction workers on the job, along with 5,000 employees of suppliers.

No state funds are planned for operating costs once it opens, probably in 2016. Minneapolis and the Vikings would contribute to ongoing operating costs.

The Minneapolis City Council needs to approve the deal, which was negotiated by Mayor R.T. Rybak and Council President Barbara Johnson. Minneapolis news media report that a majority of the council is not on board.

Several lawmakers say they oppose using any gambling to support a stadium. Others say the Vikings should build their own facility without state aid.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, continued his long-held stance of not taking sides on the issue until he sees a bill and it goes through the committee process.

“We do have members on both sides,” Zellers said.

Dayton emphasized the stadium agreement raises no taxes and uses no state general fund money, requirements he and legislative leaders long ago said were necessary.

Debate over the stadium began before the Wilfs bought the Vikings seven years ago. Zygi Wilf, chairman of the Vikings board, said that all along the team pledged to remain in Minnesota. He said owners remained patient while legislators approved stadiums for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Twins.

“This is an exciting day because the dream of keeping the Minnesota Vikings here for generations to come is close at hand,” Wilf said.

A quick look at a proposed Minnesota Vikings stadium:

<•> Total construction cost, $975 million

<•> State share, $398 million

<•> Vikings share, $427 million

<•> Minneapolis share, $150 million

<•> Newly formed stadium authority would operate facility

<•> To be built at east downtown Minneapolis Metrodome site

<•> Stadium to have fixed roof with 65,000 seats (expandable to 72,000)

<•> Stadium would open in 2016

<•> Vikings would play at University of Minnesota one year


Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.