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Trying to Make Sense of the Latest Stadium Haze

05/22/2004, 12:00am CDT
By Jason Groth

Gopher Football

Well, another legislative season has come and gone in St. Paul and once again the stadium issues for the three main tenants of the Metrodome were not addressed. For the Twins and Vikings it's another struggle that has gone on for nearly a decade. For the University of Minnesota it is the first attempt at securing funding for an on-campus football stadium.

The Gopher stadium effort began in March when a bill was introduced in the Senate calling for the state to fund 40% of the cost of a new stadium, or about $89 million. The idea got a surprisingly positive response, considering the unpopularity of bills for public funding of Twins and Vikings stadiums over the years. In fact, the response was enthusiastic. Sen. Sharon Marko articulated the general sentiment at the capital by saying, "This [Gopher football stadium bill] is the most exciting stadium plan we're going to be talking about today."

However, as Minnesotans have come to expect, nothing came of all the stadium talk. None of the stadium bills even got out of committee. So what happened to this promising U proposal? Having the Gopher football bill combined with the bill for the pro teams in the House didn't help, but the real killer was a more fundamental issue. The legislature as usual became bogged down with partisan bickering. The result: these knuckleheads couldn't even get the state budget balanced, leaving lower priority matters like stadiums in limbo. There may be a special session this year but there will be no point in that unless some prearranged agreements are made. Again, don't hold your breath.

So is all lost when it comes to the dream of an on-campus football stadium? Were all phone calls and the thousands of e-mails of support for naught? No doubt the effort has been dealt a setback. Having no firm commitment from the state could push the opening of a new stadium back at least a year; meaning 2009 may end up being the new target. In the end Gopher fans should be heartened by what happened in the legislature this year. The U's stadium plan has a lot of support - more than the most optimistic Maroon and Gold pompom waver would have dreamed of. The standalone (Gopher) stadium bill got unanimous approval in a Senate committee. This bill received high praise for its goals and simplicity.

Regarding the legislature's latest stalemate, the clock is ticking on the Metrodome lease. Before 2011 the Twins will be out of the Dome, as they are on a year-by-year lease right now. You can bet the Vikings won't be there after 2011. That leaves the Gophers holding the bag. By current estimates it costs $7 million a year just to keep the Metrodome going. By 2011 that figure will be much higher making it impractical for the University to take over the building. They could probably pay some debt service on a new on-campus stadium and maintain it for less than the cost of running the Metrodome. This doesn't even factor in the added revenue gained from a new stadium with the sure increase in attendance -­ it happens with any new stadium ­- and the added parking revenue, none of which they will ever get while in the Dome.

With or without state help the University will have to move to a new stadium by 2012. It's looking like the state is willing, even somewhat eager to help. St. Paul can put off the Gopher stadium issue for only a couple more years when the lease expirations for the Gophers and Vikings become an issue.

Hopefully, those running the stadium campaign, along with the grassroots support, won't be held hostage by the state's political gridlock. Such a wait-and-see approach could result in the Gophers sharing another stadium with the Vikings. Raising that 60%, 70%, or even 80% in private funds can only help prod the politicos to join in and get this done.

Talk about the Gophers' quest for a new stadium on our Gopher Football message board.

Tag(s): Gopher Football