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Fields of dreams; teams discuss stadium plans
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The Vikings didn't offer specifics about how they would like to finance a new stadium, but they estimate a retractable-roof football facility would cost roughly $500 million. (Minnesota Vikings)
The Minnesota Twins say they'll need more flexibility than was offered under 2002 stadium legislation if they're to successfully finance a new ballpark. The team made their case to the gubernatorial Stadium Screening Committee that's been asked to sort through stadium proposals for the upcoming legislative session. The Twins were joined by the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota Gophers football team, both of whom hope to leave the Metrodome for new facilities.

St. Paul, Minn. — The Twins have characterized the 2002 stadium bill as "Type-II" legislation -- politically expedient, but ultimately unrealistic. Among other concerns, the plan called for a $120 million upfront contribution from the team. Twins Sports President Jerry Bell says the team would rather spread its payments out over the life of the team's lease. Bell says flexibility in negotiating the fine points of financing will be key to drafting workable, "Type-I" legislation.

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Image Says Vikes needs a stadium to survive

"We took a big step forward in 2002 by passing legislation that recognized the need for a new ballpark. The 2002 law could not lead to a Type-I proposal, but it represented significant progress," Bell said.

Bell also characterized $120 million as the maximum the team could be expected to contribute. The Twins are seeking a retractable roof ballpark estimated to cost up to $450 million. Bell told committee members that the Metrodome doesn't provide the necessary revenues to keep the team competitive in the long run. And he wasn't alone. The Dome's other major tenant, the Minnesota Vikings, have also taken a seat at the stadium debate.

Vikings President Gary Woods says to survive pro teams require luxury seating, increased concessions, and other revenue-generating amenities.

"This has changed the character of all sports, whether it be in players' salaries, whether it be in advertising revenues, whether it be in cost of admission. We're dealing with a totally new environment than we had just a few years ago," he said.

The Vikings didn't offer specifics about how they would like to finance a new stadium, but they estimate a retractable-roof football facility would cost roughly $500 million.

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Image How to pay for a stadium

At one point, the team joined forces with the University of Minnesota's Golden Gophers, hoping to build a shared, on-campus facility. The Gophers also currently play at the Dome. Both sides, however, now say joint-stadium concept is unworkable. Infrastructure limitations and the Vikings desire for a year-round entertainment complex didn't mesh with the university's preference for a toned-down, college atmosphere.

Nonetheless, University of Minnesota Athletics Director Joel Maturi says the school is committed to returning college football to campus.

"It is about tailgating; it's about the band marching down University Avenue; it's about parking on the lawns of the frats or the sorority houses. Collegiate experiences at the university should be more than a game. It should be a campus event," Maturi said.

The university projects a college-level facility could be built for $180 million. School officials say they'll seek private contributions, but may return to the Legislature seeking to cover any shortfall. Building three new stadiums, however, could be difficult for many lawmakers to swallow.

Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, a long-time opponent of public funding for private sports facilities, says the only new dynamic this year is the large number of new legislators who have never weathered the often-bruising stadium debates.

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Image Twins' dreams

"We know that there are numerous lobbyists, hundreds of thousands of dollars being expended to come over here and extort public funds for a private facility. So to see how they respond to that, to see how they're influenced by it; to see what their impression's going to be is always an interesting process," Krinkie said.

But committee chairman and state Finance Commissioner Dan McElroy says Gov. Tim Pawlenty is committed to protecting state dollars. Although the state may play a role in facilitating a deal, McElroy says general revenues won't be part of the discussion.

"This isn't as important as education and health care and transportation and the environment. And I don't think this governor is going to take money that would otherwise be available for those higher priorities and put it toward a stadium," McElroy said.

The committee is expecting five to 10 proposals from developers and potential host communities by the end of next week. Members will sift through the plans and present their recommendations to the governor in early February.

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