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Senate approves three stadium proposals

ST. PAUL -- Stadium construction proposals worth $1.2 billion Minnesota Senate won votes Tuesday, but don't plan any tailgating parties at new stadiums just yet.

In a mostly partisan debate, senators approved building a University of Minnesota football stadium on campus, then passed a second bill authorizing new a Twins ballpark and Vikings stadium. Each bill passed 34-32; Democrats mostly favored it, with Republicans against.

The two sides didn't agree on how the votes affect the future of stadium legislation.

"They wanted to kill the Twins and I think they did it," Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls, said about Senate Democrats.

However, Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said the Senate professional sports stadium bill benefits both Twin Cities and rural Minnesotans and deserves consideration.

"I feel people want to get the stadiums done," he said, after a decade of fruitless debate.

The Senate Twins-Vikings plan would add a 0.5 percent sales tax on purchases in the seven-county Twin Cities area.

Besides helping fund the two stadiums -- each of which would have a retractable roof -- the sales tax increase would provide up to $530 million a year for transit needs.

The House earlier passed a Twins bill that would slightly raise the sales tax only in Hennepin County. A Vikings bill is stalled in a House committee.

Skoe said the transit funding is vital to rural Minnesota because if the Twin Cities area has enough money for buses and trains, that frees up dollars for highway construction elsewhere.

The $475 million Twins ballpark would be near the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis. The $510 million Vikings stadium is planned for Anoka County, along with a $1 billion entertainment and shopping area funded by team owner Zygi Wilf.

Team owners would participate in funding both stadiums.

Twins Sports President Jerry Bell said a public vote for the sales tax --- as the Senate requires -- would kill the baseball park. Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said he is happy his team remains in the stadium discussion, but doesn't want to hurt the Twins' stadium chances by tying the proposals together.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty said they want the Vikings and Twins decided separately.

The Vikings plan is "not as well developed" as the other proposals and needs more review, the governor said.

"They're just kind of spinning their wheels and wasting time as a result," Pawlenty said of senators approving a combined Twins-Vikings bill.

Sviggum was disappointed the Senate veered away from a proposal the Twins and Hennepin County presented.

DFL senators appeared proud of their action on the three stadiums

"They are very much alive," Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said, countering Larson's gloomy prediction.

Senators opted for a Gophers plan that would cost the state $12.9 million a year for 25 years.

They removed a proposed 13 percent statewide tax on professional and college sports clothing, trading cards, photographs and other licensed items.

Bill sponsor Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said he will resurrect the memorabilia tax to pay for the stadium.

Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, won on a 45-20 vote his effort to name the new facility "Veterans Memorial Stadium." The amendment replaces the university's wish to sell naming rights to TCF Bank for $35 million.

The bill does not allow the university to raise student fees to fund a new stadium.

The stadium would be a 50,000-seat, open-air facility costing $248 million. About $75 million would come from private donations.

The Senate plan varies from one passed by the House that would cost $9.4 million annually, with the state gaining 2,840 acres of university-owned pristine Dakota County land in the deal.

"There is some real questions whether this is the way we should be spending our money," Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said.

Marty said under the bill, state taxpayers would subsidize every seat at the $43 level for 25 years.

"Among all of our priorities, all the university's priorities, is it really worth $43 per ticket?" Marty asked.

Forum Communications' Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.