ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP/The Blaze) -- The Minnesota Vikings moved to within a governor's signature of getting a new $975 million stadium on Thursday after the state Senate approved a plan that relies on $498 million taxpayers dollars.
Gov. Mark Dayton has said he'll sign the measure, meaning the Senate's 36-30 vote was effectively the final barrier for the stadium. The House passed it overnight.
Vikings fans rally in support of the measure (Jerry Holt/AP)
The team chased a new stadium for more than a decade but had little leverage until its lease expired this past year on the 30-year-old Metrodome. Dayton led a newly urgent charge for the team, arguing 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 public expense is still high: $348 million for the state and $150 million for the city of Minneapolis.
Do the math. That’s almost half a billion dollars.
Conceptual art for the new stadium (photo courtesy: USA Today)
Even before the final Senate vote, it had taken on an air of inevitability after the House approved it and adjourned for the year early Thursday. Opponents conceded during the Senate debate that the bill would become law, even as they sharply criticized the state's share backed by expanded gambling.
Sen. Dave Thompson (R-MN) said he disagrees with "committing taxpayer money to help out an industry that is very profitable and successful," according to the Wall Street Journal. He said it was "a wealth transfer from the poor...and middle class to the wealthy -- to Adrian Peterson [Vikings' running back]".
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.
"This stadium is the best interest for the state," said Sen. Julie Rosen (R-MN) who was lead sponsor of the bill. "This investment from three partners is the best for this state."
"It's time," said Sen. Geoff Michel (R-MN). "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.
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 after the House vote.
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.
Whatever they decide on, it needs to be strong.
After the Senate vote, jubilant Vikings vice president Lester Bagley hugged another team official and shouted, "Let's build it!" Vikings fans broke out singing the "Skol Vikings" fight song and the Senate president admonished them to take it outside the chamber.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Front page photo source courtesy USA Today