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Minn. Senate Passes Vikings Stadium Bill

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — The Minnesota Senate voted in favor of the new Vikings stadium –- 38 to 28 — just before midnight after debating for 11 hours on Tuesday.

The biggest difference between the House and Senate bills is how much the team would have to pay for the new stadium.

The Minnesota Senate pushed more Vikings stadium financing costs in the direction of the team and fans Tuesday — $25 million more to be collected privately.

They also revamped a longstanding stadium plan to also impose a collection of user fees.

Now, the conference committee will meet to discuss the nearly $1 billion facility. They will look at where the two sides can try to work out the differences on Wednesday morning.

The passage by the Senate sets up those final negotiations and precede a new round of votes by the Legislature. The House approved a bill Monday that requires the team to kick in $532 million toward the stadium — $105 million above what a franchise official previously called a “set in stone” ceiling.

It was clear stadium supporters wanted to turn to offense rather than defense as the bill reached the Senate. It was Sen. Julie Rosen, the stadium bill sponsor, who promoted user fees on suites, parking and Vikings merchandise. Another backer pushed for the higher team contribution, and that amendment was approved unanimously.

The user fee amendment — adopted on a 40-26 vote — would levy a 10 percent fee on suites and on parking within a half-mile of the stadium, and impose a 6.875 percent fee on Vikings clothing, trading cards and other memorabilia.

Throughout a debate that stretched from early afternoon past nightfall, there were plenty of close calls. Senators twice approved amendments they overturned later. One would have imposed a more aggressive slate of user fees that could cut into Vikings profits and a second would have subjected portions of the bill to a potential Minneapolis voter referendum.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said the deal to date has been negotiated by people too willing to please the team.

“When stadium proponents are putting things on that make the deal less appealing to the Vikings, you wonder if it’s been put on just for the purpose of attracting votes and then getting pulled out in conference committee,” said Thompson, the leader of the conservative faction within the Senate GOP caucus. “But I guess time will tell.”

Earlier Tuesday, a Vikings executive warned state lawmakers against making major changes to the financing proposal, saying they risked losing the team’s support for the deal. Vice President Lester Bagley criticized changes made by the House when it passed the bill Monday, particularly a provision that shifted more cost from the state to the team.

“People who are opposed to this are going to do all they can to muck this up,” Bagley said in an interview on ESPN 1500 radio, speaking generally about amendments added to the bill.

Bagley pointed to a bill for a new Twins ballpark that cleared the Legislature in 2002, only to fall apart later. It took the team another four years to win legislative support for a workable bill.

Bagley didn’t immediately return a call from The Associated Press.

Though the Vikings have misgivings about the changes the House made to the bill, its approval Monday marked the team’s first victory in its years-long quest for a new stadium. Bagley called it “the first hurdle” in a process.

Bagley said the team’s owners aren’t prepared to shell out $105 million more beyond a prior $427 million private commitment toward construction of the stadium. Under a plan negotiated last winter by the governor, key lawmakers, the Minneapolis mayor and the team, the state would pay $398 million, with the money coming from an expansion of gambling. The city of Minneapolis would kick in $150 million by redirecting an existing hospitality tax.

But lawmakers will have the final say on how big a taxpayer subsidy is provided.

The Vikings are no longer under a Metrodome lease, leaving some to worry they could bolt if they don’t have a new stadium after next season.

“We don’t want the Vikings to leave,” said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina. “We want to take the wheels off this franchise and keep them for our children and grandchildren. I don’t want to cheer for the Green Bay Packers. I don’t want to cheer for the Chicago Bears. We need an NFL franchise in Minnesota. This is the bill. This is the day.”

Opponents weren’t buying the threat of team flight.

“I want to know where the Vikings are going if they leave,” said Democratic Sen. Barb Goodwin of Columbia Heights.

She added, “I think we’re scaring a lot of people for no good reason.”

The Vikings stadium bill will head to a conference committee that will likely start at about 9 a.m. Wednesday. That’s where the House and Senate will have to try and work out their differences with the bill.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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