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Vikings stadium plan quashed in first hearing

By Ashley H. Grant

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- A plan to build the Minnesota Vikings and University of Minnesota a new football stadium was quashed by a large margin today in its first committee test this legislative session.

The stadium would cost as much as $500 million. Vikings owner Red McCombs and the NFL would put up a combined $150 million. Both the Vikings and the Twins say they need new stadiums because the Metrodome does not generate enough revenues to make the teams profitable.

The bill calls for a package of new or increased fees tied to the stadium or sports in general, including a 6.5 percent tax on NFL and collegiate memorabilia and clothing sold in Minnesota.

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Other debt would be erased using player income taxes, a fee on media that broadcast from the stadium and proceeds from a football-themed lottery.

The House Government Operations Committee voted 15-5 against moving the bill to what would have been its next stop, leaving stadium proponents looking for ways to try again.

"We'll have to reassess," said Rep. Kevin Goodno, R-Moorhead, the bill's sponsor. "This is just one bump in the road."

"Obviously we're disappointed," said Mike Kelly, the Vikings' executive vice president. He said the vote wasn't representative of what Minnesotans want, and the team isn't giving up. "This isn't the end of the world for this legislative session," he said.

He said the Vikings would try to address some of the House committee's concerns in a bill they plan to put before the Senate. But, he said, "there's growing impatience" on McCombs' part, and that it would be "a big disappointment" if the Twins got a new stadium and the Vikings didn't.

Several lawmakers said the bill needed to state more clearly what money would be used to build the stadium and what would be used to run it.

One lawmaker attempted to kill the discussion before it even began.

"I think we've got much more important things to talk about, said Rep. Len Biernat, DFL-Minneapolis. His motion to set the bill aside before any testimony or debate failed on a voice vote.

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The funding plan closely mirrors recommendations of a state stadium task force.

University officials said the proposal satisfied most of their concerns, but mentioned a couple of sticking points. They said they wanted a retractable roof, instead of a fixed roof as currently proposed, because open-air stadiums are preferable for Big Ten football. They also said the proposal, as written, didn't give the university a big enough role in governing the stadium. And it would require the university to build a new parking ramp that might not get enough use on non-game days.

Goodno said he brought the bill up now because it would take about five years to get a stadium built and running. He also said the money currently available from the NFL and the Vikings might not be available in the future.

"Things will only get worse for the Vikings as they remain in the Metrodome," he said. He said declining profitability might make the Vikings less willing to put up the $100 million they'd be expected to contribute. The NFL is ready to contribute $51.5 million, but that offer expires in March 2003.

Kelly said 28 of 31 NFL teams have recently addressed their stadium needs, and many have taken advantage of the NFL money.

"It seems to be incredibly shortsighted to pass this up," Kelly said.

Meanwhile, St. Paul's plan for a new Minnesota Twins ballpark was scheduled to get its first hearing in a House committee tonight after sailing through a Senate panel last week.

The Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee last Thursday endorsed a bill that would allow Minnesota's capital city to impose new taxes to help pay for a baseball stadium.

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Major league baseball's attempt to dismantle the Twins this winter, though it failed, has put pressure on lawmakers to take another shot at a stadium.

The most aggressive push so far has come from St. Paul officials, who want to lure the Twins from Minneapolis.

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