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Politics

At Capitol, Vikings Owner Wilf Pushes Stadium

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf encourages state lawmakers Thursday to support building a new football stadium and expressed confidence the bill would pass this year.

“We’re confident that we have the parts in place to get this done this session,” Wilf told reporters at the Capitol after several hours of meetings with about a dozen state lawmakers.

Wilf met with sponsors of the bill and at least a few lawmakers who are skeptical of supporting public funding for a stadium in a year where they’re facing widespread cuts in state spending to fix a state budget deficit.

Wilf declined to comment on specific aspects of the bill, which was filed earlier this week. It proposes the state raise roughly a third of the cost, up to $300 million, through statewide sales taxes on sports memorabilia, luxury seats and digital video recorders as well as naming rights, a Vikings-themed lotto game and an income-tax surcharge on NFL players.

The bill does not specify any of several potential Twin Cities sites for the stadium but designates that whatever local government hosts the team would also kick in about a third through local sales taxes. The Vikings would pay the other third of costs, plus any overruns. Wilf would not comment on the suggestion from some state lawmakers that the team’s share should be higher.

“We are committed to a substantial private investment and we will continue to work on that,” Wilf said.

Potential sites discussed so far include the current site of the Metrodome or on property nearby and suburban sites in Hennepin County northwest of Minneapolis or Ramsey County north of St. Paul. Wilf said there are talks underway with several potential local hosts but wouldn’t go into details of those talks or say if there’s a preferred site.

“We have to evaluate what is for the best interest, not so much of the Minnesota Vikings, but what location and what circumstances will get the deal done,” Wilf said. “And we have to make sure we evaluate all the aspects of this both politically and economically.”

The Vikings’ current lease at the Metrodome expires after the upcoming season, and team officials have said after that they’re not willing to play in a venue they say is no longer sufficiently profitable from the team.

That has led some lawmakers and team supporters to worry that failure to build a new stadium could result in the departure from Minnesota of what supportive lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton have called an important state asset. Still, Wilf said he’s had no talks with potential buyers.

The New Jersey-based owner, accompanied by a phalanx of team officials and lobbyists, spoke to a handful of state representatives who ducked out of a House floor session to meet him in a corner of a Capitol hallway outside the state Supreme Court chambers. Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, said he met with Wilf at the request of team lobbyists but didn’t change his mind that a stadium bill shouldn’t be passed until after lawmakers approve a state budget. Lawmakers are tasked this year with erasing a projected $5 billion shortfall between tax collections and pending obligations.

“I’m not voting for a Vikings bill if a budget is not agreed to first,” said Morrow, who also said the current stadium bill’s proposal that the Vikings to pay a third of stadium costs is insufficient.

“I think the team’s share needs to go up, and I’d like to see some participation from the NFL too,” Morrow said.

Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, represents the legislative district that encompasses the proposed Ramsey County site, said she also told Wilf she’d like to see the team “bring more to the table.”

The bill introduced this week creates a Minnesota Stadium Authority that’s charged with picking a local partner and site for the stadium by February 2012. But several lawmakers said they told Wilf the bill would have a better chance if it specifically designates a stadium site.

“I think it helps a lot of if you know where it’s going to go and who the partners are,” said Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-South St. Paul, who also talked to Wilf.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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