ST. PAUL - Rural legislators must get on board if a new Minnesota Vikings football stadium has a chance, a legislative leader says.
"Rural members are going to have to do some very heavy lifting," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Tuesday as Senate Local Government and Taxes committee members discussed a possible new stadium.
"I don't know of any senator from Minneapolis who will vote for this," Bakk told Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who presented a proposal to build a new stadium in his city's downtown.
The top senator on stadium issues, Republican Julie Rosen of Fairmont, said that if lawmakers pass a stadium bill, rural legislators likely will provide many of the votes, as they have in the past.
Rural lawmakers were leaders in passing University of Minnesota football and Minnesota Twins baseball facility bills in recent years.
Rosen's House counterpart also is from outside the Twin Cities; Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, attended part of Tuesday's hearing.
In a Forum Communication survey of rural lawmakers earlier this fall, most said they were skeptical of stadium chances.
Tuesday's meeting was to center on where a stadium would be built: the northern Twin Cities' Arden Hills or downtown Minneapolis.
No bill has been prepared for new stadium construction and the Vikings themselves strongly prefer Arden Hills. However, Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley caved to pressure from top senators to meet with Minneapolis officials about the possibility of a stadium there.
A meeting next Tuesday is to center on financing what could be a $1.1 billion stadium. The committees can make no decisions since the Legislature is not in session.
"Let's chew on it and see what we come up with," Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said.
One question that went unanswered Tuesday was what the Vikings will do if lawmakers do not agree to a new stadium deal soon; the Vikings Metrodome lease runs out after this season.
Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, asked Bagley if the team is saying the Vikings would leave Minnesota if stadium talks fail.
"Not at all," Bagley said. "What we are just saying is that we won't have a lease."
Gov. Mark Dayton often has said that he fears the team will move to Los Angeles or elsewhere without a stadium deal. When asked about those statements on Tuesday, he told reporters that he has no inside knowledge of a Vikings plan to leave, but National Football League officials have suggested that as a possibility.
The baseball Twins played in the Metrodome without a lease for three years before their new ballpark was completed elsewhere in downtown Minneapolis, but when Bagley talked to reporters after the hearing he repeatedly refused to say what the football team would do. He said he was confident a stadium bill will pass.
"We are doing everything we can to resolve this issue," Bagley said. "The Vikings belong in Minnesota."
Few in the crowd wore Vikings purple, but a frequent team supporter in Capitol hearings donned a Vikings cap and an Adrian Peterson jersey to liven up an otherwise routine legislative meeting.
Vikings fan Larry Spooner emotionally pleaded for the Arden Hills site because it would provide the best tailgating opportunity.
"Without tailgating, my God, can you imagine what a bummer year this would be?" Spooner asked to laughter around the packed Capitol committee room. "There is only one thing that Minnesotans and Vikings fans want: Someplace where we can go tailgating."
Not everyone promoted tailgating.
Mindy Sparby, Lac Qui Parle Valley High School and Minnesota State University Moorhead graduate, said high schools feel it is important to keep a roofed facility for school sports events.
A Belle Plaine High School activities director and a leader of the Minnesota High School League, Sparby said parents and fans from around the state need a roof so they know high school tournament games will be played regardless of the weather.
Senators were told they need to act quickly.
"Waiting does not make this any cheaper," said Chairman Ted Mondale of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, estimating that construction expenses would rise up to $50 million for each year a stadium is delayed.
The Vikings teamed with Ramsey County on the Arden Hills site, which besides hosting a stadium would give team owner Zygi Wilf, who is a New Jersey developer, or someone else more than 100 acres that could be developed into businesses and homes.
Rybak told senators that sites he proposed in downtown Minneapolis would cost at least $150 million less than the proposed $1.1 billion Arden Hills facility.
"The quickest way to get the Vikings into a stadium ... is a complete remake of the Metrodome," the mayor said.
Jeffrey Cagle of Cottage Grove said he supports the Arden Hills site, not a Metrodome renovation, which he said would be "essentially putting lipstick on a pig."
"There are issues inside the Metrodome that make it an unbearable place to watch the Vikings, or anything else for that matter," Cagle said.
Holding up photos, Cagle showed narrow concourses in the Metrodome and obstructed views from the upper deck.
And, saying something no one else mentioned Tuesday, Cagle showed a photo of the collapsed dome roof from nearly a year ago.
"It is the roof collapse that put us on the map for all the wrong reasons," he said. "That roof collapse really put a black eye on our reputation."
Cagle left senators with his overall thought on a stadium: "Whatever decision you make, please keep in mind the value of the Vikings to the state."
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.