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Paynesville Press - May 31, 2006

Legislature approves two stadiums

By Melissa Andrie

New stadiums for the Minnesota Twins baseball team and for the University of Minnesota's football team were approved by the state legislature at the end of this year's session. The Minnesota Vikings football team sought a new stadium this year as well, but no plan was approved for them.

Currently, all three teams play in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The new Gophers stadium will be on the university's campus near Williams Arena. When it opens in 2009, the Gophers will play on campus for the first time since 1981.

The Twins stadium will be in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis, behind the Target Center in a spot currently used as a parking lot, and it will open for the 2010 season.

Both will be outdoor stadiums, though the Twins are looking at designs to protect some seats from precipitation and to heat gathering areas. Neither stadium will allow smoking.

The stadiums were approved within hours of each other, with the Gophers stadium passing first and the Twins stadium finished at 5 a.m. on Sunday, May 21, the day before the session was required to end.

Local legislators all voted in favor of the Twins stadium, which was approved 71-61 in the House of Representatives and 34-32 in the Senate. However, they split their votes on the Gophers stadium, which passed 69-37 in the House and 43-24 in the Senate.

Sen. Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar), Rep. Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport), and Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) supported the Gophers stadium.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville), Sen. Steve Dille (R-Dassel), and Rep. Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph) voted in opposition to it.

The 42,000 seat Twins stadium - with 12,000 of those seats between first and third bases - will be financed by a Hennepin County sales tax and by the owner, Carl Pohlad. An exemption from a state law requiring a favorable vote before a local sales tax goes into effect was included in the bill. Revenue from the 0.15 percent tax, which is three cents on each $20 purchase, will cover 75 percent of the $522 million stadium costs.

The $248 million Gophers stadium will use state money, however. About 55 percent of the cost will be paid by the state through $10.3-million contributions each year for 25 years. The remainder of the cost will come from donations to the university, a $50 annual fee for students, parking revenues, and corporate sponsorship.

In an agreement to pay the university $35 million towards the construction costs, TCF Bank gets campus banking rights and naming rights for the 50,000-seat stadium, which will be called TCF Bank Stadium.

A land swap included in the Gophers agreement gives the state a 2,840-acre section of university research land in Rosemount, which will be used for public recreation.

Legislators debated at length about the exemption to a sales tax referendum for the Twins stadium and other taxes to possibly pay for the construction. Supporters of the exemption claimed that holding the vote would delay the project and increase expenses, while opponents said that the supporters feared a voter rejection of the tax. The Twins organization said that if a referendum was required, they would back out of the deal.

Many close votes were taken on the Twins bill, which went through more than 50 hours of committee hearings in the House of Representatives, which is where the final bill originated. Attempts to require a referendum on the tax failed by only two votes in one committee and by two votes on the House floor. At one point, a Senate committee unanimously decided that a referendum was needed.

Though the Hennepin County Board voted in favor of the deal last year as well as this year, a number of state legislators from that county voted against the stadium bill. At some points in the process, they deferred their votes to see if enough votes were cast for approval, because then they could vote no while still knowing that the bill would pass.

Though they all voted in favor of the final bill, local legislators expressed concern about the referendum issue, as well. Dille identified the Twins as the "most urgent situation" of the three stadium proposals, because a court has ruled that the team could potentially leave Minnesota after their lease is up after this year. A new lease will keep the Twins in this outdoor stadium for at least 30 years.

Urdahl, who feels that the Twins agreement was "not a perfect deal, but the best deal we were going to get," said he would have liked the bill to include a referendum on the sales tax but did not want to see the Twins back out of the agreement as a result. That sentiment was also expressed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Hosch evaluated the stadium proposals on whether they used state money for construction or "caused state responsibilities to suffer" through measures that changed funding for other programs. Since the Twins stadium did neither, he favored it.

In a survey of his constituents, Heidgerken got a strong positive response to the Twins bill, he said.

Most of the local legislators also noted that the bill would not impose any cost on their constituents as a reason they favored it.

The Gophers stadium faced disagreement over whether funding would be better used for academic needs, the naming of the stadium after a corporation, and the fee on students.

Johnson referred to research showing that schools with competitive football teams have more generous alumni and said that other academic needs can be funded from alumni contributions. He also noted that the University of Minnesota is the only Big 10 school without an on-campus stadium.

Urdahl feels that the state obligation to care for the university buildings meant that the stadium was reasonable.

However, with the Metrodome so near the university campus, Dille felt that an on-campus stadium was not necessary.

Hosch voted against the Gophers bill as a protest against a provision that gave part of a steel tax to a commemorative building on the Iron Range. This year, he attempted to reform legislature procedures and had hoped to stop provisions like this, which weren't passed in the bill from either the House or the Senate, from being added by a conference committee.

Revenue from the stadiums will go to the the Twins and to the U of M, and they will also pay the operating costs of their respective stadiums. The Twins expect to increase team revenue by $40 million each year, which should increase their payroll significantly. Currently, the Twins have the 19th largest payroll of 30 major league teams, but the team's revenue last year was the lowest in baseball.

The Gophers anticipate an additional $3 million annual revenue on top of the $5 million revenue they had now, according to Urdahl.

Others will benefit from the Twins stadium as well, though. A three percent Minneapolis entertainment tax, which is not applied to tickets at the Metrodome, will be added to Twins tickets at the new ballpark. This is expected to raise between $2 million and $3 million each year, which will be used for police protection around the stadium.

Hennepin County is now entitled to $2 million a year for 30 years to be put towards youth activities and expansion of library hours.

Furthermore, if the Vikings get a new stadium and the Metrodome is sold, Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis will each get $5 million from the sale.

A provision in the Twins bill, based on anticipation of the team's value rising with the new stadium, requires the public to receive money from any sale of the team within 10 years of the start of construction. The public would receive 18 percent of the money if the sale occurred right away, but that percentage will decline over the 10 years.

Area legislators weighed in on the Vikings stadium as well, though it did not get worked into a final bill in conference committee. One of the last proposals had the Vikings paying $280 million, a 0.75 percent Anoka County sales tax raising $280 million, and a special tax district raising $230 million more. That proposal had a 68,500-seat roofed stadium in the middle of a retail, office, and entertainment development.

If the Vikings adapt their proposal to a bill similar to that passed for the Twins, there is a good chance of its passage, Urdahl thinks. The Vikings lease is not up until 2011, noted Johnson, so there is time for negotiations with the legislature.

Another benefit of the two stadiums deals that did pass is the job growth they create, added Johnson, who estimated that $800 million worth of jobs will result from the construction.

Both stadium bills were sent to the governor and signed into law.

(Editor's Note: Andrie is a 2004 graduate of Paynesville Area High School who just finished her sophomore year at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. She has covered the legislature for the Press for two years and has now returned for a second summer as a reporter.)

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