Vikings stadium effort gains momentum in Minnesota LegislatureA Vikings stadium construction effort has fallen short for years, but a Friday meeting among NFL officials and Minnesota leaders produced the most progress so far.
By: Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL — A Vikings stadium construction effort has fallen short for years, but a Friday meeting among NFL officials and Minnesota leaders produced the most progress so far.
The plan that passed a Senate committee Friday night on an 8-6 vote faces tough votes in other committees. And the House version must be resurrected and face further committee debates of its own.
Despite what even supporters predict to be a difficult future, they said Friday could be a turning point.
A stadium “is very close to the goal line,” Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, head of the NFL stadium committee, said after meeting with state leaders.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, told a radio audience that he expects the stadium to receive a full House debate, even though a committee defeated it Monday night.
Neither Zellers nor Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, predicted a stadium package would pass, but the mood inside the Capitol changed in recent days to become more optimistic that a stadium is possible.
Credit the new-found momentum to a meeting of NFL officials with eight key state leaders in the governor’s Capitol office.
“Our presence here is a signal of how important it is to the National Football League” that the Vikings remain in Minnesota, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.
Goodell didn’t say the Vikings will move to Los Angeles if Minnesota lawmakers don’t pass a financing package this year to build the team a new stadium
He didn’t say they wouldn’t move, either, and that appears to have turned up the urgency to bring an end to this long-running saga.
Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II met with Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders on Friday in hopes of jumpstarting the stalled stadium debate.
“They were here basically to say, ‘This is it folks,’ ” Dayton said.
A simmering movement to put a franchise in Los Angeles came up in the discussion at the prompting of lawmakers, Dayton said. Sen. Julie Rosen, a Republican sponsoring the stadium bill, said legislative leaders heard that Los Angeles is an option, even if there was no explicit threat from the NFL.
“There is no ultimatum, but we did clearly talk about L.A. We did clearly talk about that is an open market,” Rosen said. “I do believe there is a feeling in some legislators and even in some folks throughout the state that they would never leave. So it was good to hear from the NFL, and from a very prominent owner, that they do have the right to move or be sold. For us it was good to get everyone on the same page saying this is the year that it needs to be done and we need to move forward.”
Hours later, the Senate committee resurrected a bill on which debate suddenly stopped last month when it became obvious there were not enough votes to pass it.
“This is a very good, workable deal for the state of Minnesota,” Rosen said about her bill to support a $975 million stadium on the site of the downtown Minneapolis Metrodome.
However, even though the end of this year’s legislative session is expected to come in little more than a week, “it still has a lot of work to go, we realize that,” she added.
One of the main objections to bills authored by Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, remains a proposal to allow charities that get revenue from gambling to expand pulltabs and bingo from current paper games to electronic devices. Supporters say that would provide enough money to repay state bonds that would be sold to finance Minnesota’s
$398 million share of construction costs.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said he fears Minnesotans will increase their gambling.
Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council agreed: “I urge you not to pay for a new stadium by expanding predatory gambling in the state.”
Minnesota political leaders and National Football League officials said their hour-long Friday meeting gives them more confidence a Vikings stadium can be built.
Those in the meeting said Goodell made it clear that cities like Los Angeles are interested in an NFL team. A newspaper reported that the Vikings owners’ plane was in that city Thursday.
None of the eight state leaders in the NFL meeting was willing to declare victory.
“It has to be a good deal for the state of Minnesota,” Zellers said.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said even if the Vikings and NFL would be willing to extend work on a stadium for a year, it would be harder to pass next year given the expected large state budget deficit and the probability that a third of the Legislature may be new.
Dayton said that “very definitely” the NFL officials said that they would consider lack of stadium action this year as “basically a ‘no’ on the stadium.”
The message was clear, Dayton said; “If we don’t build a new stadium, the Vikings are going to leave. … The writing is on the wall.”
The NFL wants another team in Los Angeles, he added, even though “they would not like it to be the Vikings.”
The Wilf family, which owns the Vikings, pledged to keep the team in Minnesota. But the possibility remains to sell the team, with the new owner moving it.
The Wilf family is “very frustrated,” Goodell said, but remains committed to Minnesota. The Wilfs were not in Friday’s meeting.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.