Reporting Pat Kessler
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers took another shot Tuesday at figuring out a plan for a new Vikings stadium.
The state’s politicians held a marathon six hour hearing as two cities compete for the right to build it. The Vikings disappointing season may be winding down, but their drive for a new stadium is ramping up.
Like game day for the Vikings, spectators lined up outside a State Capitol hearing room several hours before kickoff. Skeptical lawmakers voiced a question many Minnesotans have:
Why the hurry?
“What is the urgency? I hear a lot that we need a Vikings stadium and we need it soon. Frankly, I am not yet convinced. I’m willing to learn,” said Sen. Julianne Ortman with the Taxes Chair Committee.
The Vikings are asking the public to build a $1.1 billion facility in Arden Hills, telling lawmakers the team is $42 million below the NFL average in revenues.
The head of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission flatly testified that the Vikings are ready to leave Minnesota if a stadium deal can’t get done soon.
“I don’t know if it is next year, I don’t know if it is three years. When you have a business that is either losing money or not making money, as sure as the winter comes or the leaves fall, they will leave,” said Ted Mondale.
Vikings officials said as they have all along that they are focused on a new stadium in Minnesota. They also revealed that they’ve been contacted by three communities elsewhere that they would be happy to have the Vikings if they moved.
“We want to be here were doing everything we can to get this done here. But yes, we have been contacted by other communities,” said Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development.
In the Capitol hallways, all claim to be Vikings fans. But many said it’s wrong to use public money for a stadium.
Arts supporters protested one idea to use money from the Legacy Fund: taking it away from arts and cultural heritage projects.
“Saying the Vikings are part of our cultural heritage is like saying the Cleveland Indians are part of American Indian heritage. It’s just kind of fake,” said Sheila Smith with Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.
The Vikings lease with the Metrodome expires in about seven weeks, and it was clear Tuesday that the lawmakers are pressing hard for answers.
They got one Tuesday: After meeting with the Vikings, Minneapolis said it has narrowed its list of three stadium sites to one preferred site: The Metrodome. Going into the day there were four sites for a stadium, and now there are two.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said using the Metrodome would be $215 million cheaper than the team’s preferred option of building a $1.1 billion stadium in suburban Ramsey County.
Rybak also offered a $300 million local share from an existing local sales tax. He said the Minneapolis Armory could be converted to a game-day events center.