Stadium effort gains momentum, still short of goal
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 8-6 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 eventually will pass, but the mood inside the Capitol changed in recent days to become more optimistic a stadium is possible.
Credit the new-found momentum to a meeting of National Football League 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.
The message coming from the meeting was loud and clear: Approve a stadium during this legislative session or the Vikings may move.
However, Goodell said he did not threaten the state.
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," Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, 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.
Gov. Mark 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.
Lanning called the meeting "constructive," and said it helped add urgency to his cause.
"We cannot afford to have this wait another year," he said.
Friday's developments were good, he added. "I think we have some indication there is a way forward."
The Vikings say they cannot continue to play in the Metrodome, where their lease expired two months ago.
The main proposal is for a $975 million stadium on the Metrodome site, with the state paying $398 million, Minneapolis $150 million and the Vikings and other private sources adding $427 million.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.