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Stadium donor gives U of M more tiime to deal

By Brian Bakst

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- The University of Minnesota has six more months to win state support for a new football stadium proposal after TCF Financial Corp. pushed back the expiration date on a $35 million naming-rights deal.

The agreement, which was to expire Dec. 31, will now run through June 30.

"We're still hoping for a special session to get our stadium bill passed, but this extension provides a little wiggle room for the U headed into the new year," university spokesman Dan Wolter said.

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The Legislature adjourned in July without acting on the school's stadium plan, which calls for the state to pay 40 percent of the cost for an open-air stadium on campus, and for student fees and private donations to cover the rest.

The lack of action in 2005 added to the price tag, and the expected cost now stands at $249 million.

The 50,000-seat facility would be known as TCF Bank Stadium.

Gophers football left campus nearly 25 years ago when the team joined the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome. Now all three are working on separate stadium proposals.

University of Minnesota president Robert Bruininks expressed hope of swift legislative action in 2006.

"The clock is ticking on this stadium project," he said in a news release. "Every day of delay drives the cost higher. We need the Legislature to take action in early 2006 if this is going to get done."

If the money comes through next year, the stadium should be built by the 2009 season, he said.

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, the author of the Senate version of the Gophers stadium bill last session, said he's optimistic about its prospects in 2006.

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"In football terms, I would say that it's first and goal for the Gopher football proposal," he said. "There's bipartisan support, the corporate community has stepped up, the alumni community has stepped up, and we just need the Legislature to punch this across the goal line."

William Cooper, TCF's chief executive officer, said he hopes the extension provides momentum for the project.

Another donor, Best Buy Co., has a Feb. 15 deadline for legislative approval attached to its $2.5 million contribution. Wolter said no extension has been agreed to yet with Best Buy, but school officials are confident one will be worked out.

For their part, the Vikings are expected to extend a stadium partnership with Anoka County that was due to expire at the end of the year. The team and county need legislative approval for a local sales tax increase and some state dollars for a new suburban stadium.

The Twins stadium prospects are more murky. The baseball team has partnership with Hennepin County that runs through Dec. 31 on a ballpark plan that relies on a higher local sales tax. They need legislative approval to raise the county sales tax without a public referendum.

Neither the Twins nor the county were predicting an extension of the agreement.

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