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Against Vikings' wishes, House changes stadium bill

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sports Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

ST. PAUL - A debate a decade in the making began this afternoon as the state House considered whether to build a nearly $1 billion Vikings stadium.

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Right off kickoff, representatives decided the plan offered by Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, was not ready, even after 10 years of discussion. The House's first amendment increases Vikings' contribution to a stadium more than the team wants.

Debate was expected to continue for hours, possibly well into Tuesday.

"This is our one chance," Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said. "This bill works. It has been fined tuned and it will build a stadium."

Lanning said the bill he authored would provide much more than just a Vikings stadium to replace the downtown Minneapolis Metrodome.

"Quite simply, the Metrodome will not meet the needs of Minnesota for the next 40 or 50 years," Lanning said.

The Vikings' 10 days in the new facility would be joined by more than 300 other events each year, Lanning said.

Lanning warned fellow representatives that the Vikings most likely will leave if they do not get a new stadium.

"The time has come for Minnesota to make a decision," he said, reminding lawmakers of attempts to build a facility for more than 10 years.

In the first hour of debate, representatives decided 97-31 to up the Vikings' contribution to stadium construction costs.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, offered the amendment to cut public funds going to a stadium $105 million.

The amendment "eliminates some of the barriers" preventing lawmakers from backing the stadium funding bill, Garofalo said. All but two National Football League stadiums have lower public contributions, he added.

But Lanning said he and other negotiators already tried to get all the money possible out of the team. The team fiscal picture already "right now is marginal," Lanning said, part of the reason the Vikings want a new stadium.

"If we squeeze too much, we may end up with not having a deal," Lanning said.

The Garofalo amendment could force the Vikings into considering selling, which likely would lead to the team moving, Lanning said. The amendment would reduce the state payment to $293 million and increase the Vikings' responsibility to $532 million.

In the second hour of debate, the House decided against eliminating gambling taxes as a way to fund the stadium, replacing it with user fees. The Vikings also oppose that move, which many lawmakers support.

Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, offered the amendment to eliminate gambling.

"There is no one out there holding banners or screaming about the social cost of gambling," Benson said, referring to union workers and Vikings fans chanting in favor of a stadium just outside the House chambers.

The user fees would add about 10 percent to the cost of tickets, broadcast rights, parking and other stadium-related issues.

"It becomes the stadium that losers built," Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said if gambling is the funding source. "In order for the stadium to get paid, people have to lose their money."

If the House passes Lanning's bill, the Senate will take up its own version and negotiators would need to work out differences, leaving open the possibility of making massive changes.

An electric feeling began filling the Minnesota Capitol Monday morning.

"Build it now" chants filled the rotunda as Gov. Mark Dayton met with Vikings fans and union workers, and moments later representatives heard the chants as they gathered for the historic session.

"This is first and foremost about jobs, putting Minnesotans back to work," Dayton shouted to those gathered under the dome.

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