ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings faced a high hurdle Monday in the bid for a taxpayer subsidy to build a new football stadium, as members of a state House committee raised questions and criticism about the plan.
“Why should we help a billionaire build a stadium he can afford to build himself?” Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, asked Vikings executives, referencing Vikings owner Zygi Wilf. Team vice president Lester Bagley replied that the new stadium would be a statewide asset, available to host everything from high school sports tournaments to national sporting events, such as the NCAA basketball finals.
The House Government Operations Committee hearing was seen as key to the survival of the Vikings’ decade-long push for state help to replace the Metrodome. The latest plan calls for a new $975 million stadium on the Metrodome site with the state, the team and the city of Minneapolis all contributing a share of the total cost.
The hearing stretched into Monday night as the committee planned to vote whether to keep the bill moving through the House.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers had said at the end of last week that surviving the committee — which has a number of members that are skeptical of the proposal — would be a sign of strength, and would probably guarantee a vote by the full House before the end of a legislative session likely to wrap up this month.
The bill’s chief House sponsor, Rep. Morrie Lanning, said it was time for the full House and Senate to give the proposal an up-or-down vote.
“My goal here is that we need to get this issue on the floor of the House and the Senate where the members can decide once and for all whether we’re going to do something on the stadium issue or not,” said Lanning, R-Moorhead. “I think we owe it to the people of Minnesota to once and for all get this issue resolved, favorably or not.”
Bagley reiterated the view of team owners, which is that the Metrodome is no longer sufficiently profitable compared to other NFL venues. Stadium supporters, including Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, have said they believe that failing to help the team build a new facility would send the Vikings to another city seeking an NFL franchise.
“Sooner or later if we don’t act on this, they will leave,” said Ted Mondale, Dayton’s chief stadium negotiator.
But Vikings officials faced tough questioning from several committee members who said they weren’t convinced it’s a good deal for taxpayers.
“How do we as representatives of public taxpayers, how do we know we’re getting a good deal?” asked Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. He asked the team’s chief financial officer, Steve Poppen, to estimate how much getting a new stadium would increase the team’s market value.
Poppen said that was difficult to estimate.
Winkler also asked if lawmakers could inspect the Vikings’ books, but Poppen said as a privately held company, nothing compelled the team to open them.
Poppen did reveal that naming rights alone would probably net the team between $4.5 million and $7.5 million annually. He also said that the team cannot currently boast positive cash flow.
Under the current proposal, the cost of the stadium would be split three ways. The state would contribute $398 million, mostly tax revenue from an expansion of legal gambling. Minneapolis would contribute $150 million from existing sales taxes. And the team would contribute $427 million, with a portion likely coming from the NFL.
A Senate version of the stadium bill has stalled in the Local Government Committee; no hearings are scheduled.
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