ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — After a plan to build the Minnesota Vikings a new home cleared its final hurdle Thursday in the state Senate, the team executive who spent much of the past decade lobbying for the nearly $1 billion stadium could hardly contain himself.
“Let’s build it!” vice president Lester Bagley shouted, hugging Vikings’ communications director Jeff Anderson.
In the gallery above the Senate chamber, Vikings fans broke out in a rendition of the “Skol Vikings!” fight song, earning a reprimand from the Senate secretary. But it held no sting for Bagley and others associated with the team.
Vikings fan Larry Spooner, of Plymouth, wept and said Thursday was the happiest day of his life.
“I’m sorry, it’s a simple life,” he said. “This means we’re cool; we’ve got this off our plate. We can worry about our tight end, or quarterback.”
Spooner said his happiness exceeded the wealth of Steve Jobs, adding that Jobs, if he were alive, would probably trade places with him.
The Senate vote capped an amazing comeback for the Vikings’ stadium dreams, which just a few weeks ago were fizzling before a visit from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell crystallized fears that the Vikings could leave the state without a new home.
Gov. Mark Dayton has promised to sign the bill, a $975 million plan to build on the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis with just over half the cost paid with public money.
At a celebratory news conference, owner Zygi Wilf recalled when he and his brother Mark first took ownership of the team nearly seven years ago and being asked whether they would move the team.
“We kept on fighting that this day would come, and it’s here today,” Wilf said.
Dayton, who served as a main cheerleader for the deal for months, publicly thanked the Wilfs for agreeing to a $50 million bump in their share in final negotiations this week.
“Without your willingness to take that last step, we wouldn’t have crossed the goal line,” Dayton said.
On Thursday, the Vikings and the University of Minnesota announced they have reached preliminary agreement on the Vikings’ use of TCF Bank Stadium during construction of a new Vikings stadium. Under the agreement, the Vikings will pay the university a fixed fee of $250,000 per game. The combined rent and expected concessions and sponsorship revenue that the Vikings would share with the university would amount to $300,000 per game, or $3 million per regular NFL season. The Board of Regents takes up the agreement Friday, and university President Eric Kaler could sign the letter of intent in the next few days.
The Vikings had pursued a stadium for years but gained leverage only when its lease on the Metrodome expired this past year. The team argued that the 30-year-old Metrodome didn’t generate enough revenue for it to compete. Dayton, a Democrat, argued that without a new building the state could lose its most beloved franchise.
The deal guarantees the Vikings’ future in Minnesota for three decades.
The team would pay 49 percent of construction costs: $477 million, which is $50 million more than owners initially committed. But the total public expense is slightly higher: $348 million for the state and $150 million for the city of Minneapolis.
“We’ve scored a touchdown, and it’s a touchdown for the state of Minnesota and it’s a touchdown for the Vikings fans,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, a Democrat from Chisholm, prior to casting his vote in favor the bill.
Even before the final Senate vote, the stadium bill had taken on an air of inevitability after the House approved it and adjourned for the year hours earlier. Opponents who sharply criticized the state’s share backed by expanded gambling couldn’t muster the votes to block the bill.
“Everybody wants a yes vote, everybody wants a stadium, but at what cost?” said Sen. John Howe, a Republican from Red Wing who voted against the final deal after supporting a Senate bill that included fees on luxury suites, parking and Vikings clothing.
Supporters countered by reminding their colleagues of the pain of losing the Lakers and the North Stars to other states in past decades, and said they were inundated with messages from Vikings fans urging them to keep the team here.
“It’s time,” said Sen. Geoff Michel, a Republican from Edina. “It’s time for us to adopt a framework that allows us to keep a Minnesota franchise. It’s time to keep the Minnesota Vikings here so that our children and our grandchildren, yes, can wear purple.”
Sen. Scott Newman, a Hutchinson Republican who voted no, said the state should be spending its money instead on things like health care, education and infrastructure.
“I know it happens across the nation, but it saddens me to think that our citizens believe that this is a wise expenditure of tax money,” Newman said.
Bagley said the team’s multimillionaire owners, New Jersey developers Zygi and Mark Wilf, supported the deal even though $50 million of the cost was shifted from the state to the team because time was running out. The Senate voted on the final day available for voting this year.
Under the bill, the Vikings would pay about $13 million annually in operating fees, though a public authority gets the power to rent out the building on nongame days for concerts, conventions and special events. The Wilfs would get exclusive rights to recruit a professional soccer team to Minnesota.
The bill gives the Vikings the option to upgrade to a retractable roof, but at their expense. Bagley said the Vikings haven’t decided if they’ll make that enhancement.
The Vikings intend to take advantage of an NFL loan program, sell naming rights and possibly impose seat license fees to help cover the team’s end of construction costs.
The state’s share was to come through expanded gambling, which some legislators opposed on principle. Others worried the state overestimated the money it would get by authorizing charitable organizations to offer electronic versions of pull tabs, a low-tech paper game offered in bars and restaurants around the state.
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