Trying to predict what, if anything, the 2002 Legislature will do about various stadium proposals is like trying to predict Minnesota's fickle spring weather.
State lawmakers could do nothing or they might just come up with a last-minute plan to build either a professional baseball stadium or a joint professional and college football stadium. Their inaction, to date, can be traced to the failure to find a remedy for the state's expected revenue shortfall. Once the revenue shortfall is fixed the state budget picture will come into clearer view and a stadium package could quickly fall into place.
While most of the stadium talk has focused on the Minnesota Twins, (thanks to Commissioner Bud Selig's ill-fated contraction plans) representatives of the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota have been working quietly behind the scenes on a stadium proposal that closely parallels a well-received Twins stadium plan.
In a nutshell, the Vikings and the 'U' have agreed to pay 51 percent of a $505 million on-campus stadium. Gifts of $100 million from Vikings owner Red McCombs and $51.5 million from the NFL would be invested in an interest-bearing fund to raise money for the stadium. The university would donate land worth $5 million and spend $60 million to build parking ramps. Private donations would also be raised.
In many respects, despite the threats of baseball contraction, solving the football stadium dilemma is a more pressing state concern. The university, a public institution, has to have a viable site for the Golden Gophers to play and attract crowds if it's going to continue to compete in Division I football. The athletic department's financial woes made one point exceedingly clear. The only long-term solution to the revenue shortfall in the Gopher athletics department is for an on-campus stadium where the 'U' could generate revenue from parking, concessions and luxury suites. No other university sport has the capacity to generate the type of revenue that can be acquired by football.
Most observers agree that moving football off-campus to the sterile Metrodome in the 1980s was one of the biggest mistakes the university athletic department ever made. A new venue that recaptures some of the nostalgic atmosphere of Memorial Stadium and allows Minnesota to generate collateral revenue could go a long ways to stabilizing athletics funding at Minnesota.
The precise details of the Vikings-University plan are still being worked on, but if a football stadium plan can be devised that relies largely on interest from pro football contributions and user fees and does not involve direct taxpayer contributions, lawmakers should give it a serious look.
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