Minnesota lawmakers working out the final version of a bill for a new Vikings stadium Wednesday raised the amount the team would pay by $50 million US, a calculated move that could soon put the team in the new facility it has long coveted.
The reworked bill has the Vikings paying $477 million, a significant cut above the figure team officials had once described as "set in stone." But though the package was tougher, it also is the closest the team has come to winning a replacement for the Metrodome, a 30-year-old facility that the team says has outlived its usefulness.
Early Thursday, a Vikings officials said the team's billionaire owners, New Jersey developers Zygi and Mark Wilf, are backing the deal.
"The Vikings and the Wilfs have stepped up," said team vice-president Lester Bagley. "The Wilfs have stepped up and made a huge commitment to Minnesota and a huge commitment to Vikings fans."
For weeks team executives had insisted they wouldn't up their contribution.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, a Republican who was the stadium's chief advocate in the House, said getting the required votes depended on upping the team contribution.
"We knew we had to drive a hard bargain and we drove a hard bargain," he said.
He said a vote would come with or without the team's approval.
As revised, the $975 million stadium would draw on $348 million in state money, plus $150 million from the city of Minneapolis. The new stadium would be built on the site of the Metrodome near downtown Minneapolis.
The deal isn't final. It's subject to approval by the House and Senate, and would then go to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature, a near certainty given the months he has pressed legislators to come up with a stadium deal that would guarantee the Vikings don't leave the state.
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.
Still others opposed any new taxes to benefit the billionaire Wilfs.
The Vikings have been seeking a new stadium for more than a decade, arguing that they couldn't compete in the outdated Metrodome. But the team had little leverage until its lease expired after last season. The Vikings are obligated to play this season in Minnesota but could move after that.
The most frequently mentioned relocation market, Los Angeles, doesn't appear ready to host a team, but Minnesotans have painful memories of losing franchises before. The NBA Lakers left for Los Angeles in 1960, and the NHL North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993.
Losing the Vikings, the state's most popular team, would hurt far worse. Dayton made a new stadium a top priority last fall, touting the project as a job creator in addition to preserving a valuable asset.
Despite Dayton's efforts, the legislation appeared stalled until NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell visited the Capitol in late April to urge lawmakers to act. After his visit, the stadium plan revived and limped through committees, with Vikings fans in jerseys, face paint and purple spandex looking on at every turn.
The legislation finally reached floor votes this week. In both the House and Senate, lawmakers sought to reduce the state's share of the project — by $105 million in the House, and by $25 million in the Senate.
After the House first moved to rework the bill, Bagley warned that legislators were risking loss of the team's support for the deal and said the team wasn't ready to commit to more money.
Under the original plan negotiated last winter by the governor, key lawmakers, the Minneapolis mayor and the team, the Vikings would pay $427 million and the state would pay $398 million, with the money coming from an expansion of gambling. The city of Minneapolis would kick in $150 million by redirecting an existing hospitality tax.