ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings' pursuit of a $975 million stadium went to the floor of the state Senate on Thursday and even opponents predicted it would clear its final hurdle.
Gov. Mark Dayton has pledged to sign the bill that would guarantee the team's future in the state for the next 30 years. The public expense would be high: $348 million for the state and $150 million for the city of Minneapolis.
The Vikings would pay $477 million, slightly less than half the cost, after their share was raised in final negotiations. The House approved the bill 71-60 at about 3:30 a.m. Thursday.
"It's time," Sen. Geoff Michel, a Republican from Edina, said on the Senate floor. "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 opposed the bill, predicted it would pass. He 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.
For supporters, saying yes to the stadium was the only way to lock down a treasured team no longer bound by a stadium lease. The Vikings have said the 30-year-old Metrodome is outmoded and they can't make enough money in it to compete in the NFL.
Vikings vice-president Lester Bagley said the team's billionaire 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 Legislature had only two days left to act.
"It is a heavy lift, but it is the right thing to do for Minnesota," Bagley said.
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.
Under the bill, the Vikings would sign a 30-year lease on a stadium to be built on the site of the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The team would pay about $13 million annually in operating fees, though a public authority gets the power to rent out the building on non-game 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 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.
Outgunned but not going quietly, opponents expressed disgust that lawmakers were bowing to baseless fears of the team leaving if it doesn't get a new stadium.
"I think the state got rolled. Our constituents got rolled," said Rep. Tina Liebling, a Democrat from Rochester. "I think we can do much better."
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen was among those to slam the state's decision to authorize thousands of mini-gambling devices in bars and restaurants and take a cut of the profits. He characterized the plan as preying on people addicted to gambling.
"Rather than Robin Hood, we're robbing the poor to subsidize the rich," said Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe.
But ardent fan Larry Spooner Jr., the leader of a band of Vikings fans who held daily vigils at the Capitol during stadium discussions, was giddy with excitement. Spooner said he would hold off on celebrating until all of the votes were done.
"We are Vikings fans," he said. "We are prepared for the worst."