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Legislators introduce Vikings stadium bill

ST. PAUL -- A bill spelling out how to pay for a $791 million Minnesota Vikings stadium is being introduced by lawmakers today.

The bill would allow one of two funding options. One would tax Twin Cities hotels, sports memorabilia purchases statewide, a sports-themed lottery game and rental cars. The other would require Minneapolis to use existing entertainment taxes to help pay off the stadium if it were built in that city.

But the bill faces a tough road in the Legislature, which must adjourn two weeks from today and still needs to balance the state budget, which will include cutting health care programs for poor Minnesotans.

Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, said he is introducing the bill because "the Vikings contribute a great deal to the state economy." With low construction costs and high unemployment, this is the time to build a stadium, said Solberg, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Vikings official Lester Bagley said the proposal is a good start and he is confident something can be worked out by the time lawmakers go home for the year, but he expressed reservations.

Perhaps Bagley's most serious concern is the amount the team would have to pay for the stadium, to be owned by a local government. One plan would have the Vikings and its fans pay $698 million over 40 years. The other plan would cost the team $420 million in the first 10 years.

Under either plan, the Vikings would be locked into a 40-year lease, and if the team is sold profits would go to pay for the stadium.

The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome ends after next year's season and team owners say they will not pay in the current facility after that.

Legislative leaders have been cool to the idea of a new stadium, saying the budget situation must be fixed first. Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said that the budget plan is well under way, so now is the time to begin stadium discussions.

Lanning said the plan unveiled this morning both keeps the Vikings in Minnesota and avoids spending any general state tax funds for a stadium.

"If we want to maintain this great asset ... we are going to have to do something," Lanning said.

The bill does not specify where a stadium would be located, although many say Minneapolis is the preferred site. Bagley said talks have begun with Brooklyn Park officials, too, although the mayor there has said he does not know where the suburb would get money it would need.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.