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Vikings stadium debate could help Saints, Huskies — but unlikely to happen

Proposed St. Paul Saint ballpark

A proposed new St. Paul Saints (independent; American Association) ballpark and a renovation of Duluth’s Wade Stadium could be part of any bonding bill for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium — but the Legislature is unlikely to meet in special session to consider the issue.

The state of Minnesota made national headlines with a 20-day government shutdown before Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and Republican leaders in both chambers set aside their differences to come to a budget agreement. But they left one big issue on the table: a funding plan for a new Vikings stadium, which includes $350 million in state money.

Dayton has indicated he would call the Legislature back into session if an improved Vikings funding plan is prepared — legislation was introduced late in the session and was admittedly full of holes — and could be included as part of a larger bonding bill. That’s good news for the Saints and the Duluth Huskies (summer collegiate; Northwoods League), whose ballpark projects passed muster early in the legislative process but fell by the wayside while the Legislature focused on passing a balanced budget.

The Saints are proposing a new $50 million ballpark in downtown St. Paul’s Lowertown area, adjacent to the popular Farmers Market. Under the current funding plan, the state would pay $25 million toward the ballpark, with the rest coming from the team and the city. In the case of Wade Stadium, the city is seeking $5.7 million from the city to help pay for a $10-million renovation of the WPA-era facility, which is badly in need of some TLC after decades of neglect.

Why would these two facilities be rolled into a Vikings bill? Politics. Passage of any bonding bill focused mainly on the Vikings will bring out stadium opponents on both sides of the aisle. Given the way it’s structured at the moment, any bonding bill will probably need some DFL assistance for passage. DFLers from both St. Paul and Duluth may be a little more inclined to support a Vikings stadium if there are some dollops of public dollars for their local projects. Really, it’s how bills are passed.

Still, observers we’ve chatted with don’t think there’s a very strong chance a Vikings bill will be taken up in a special session, despite some pressure from the team to come to a decision. There are some definite deadlines at play here: with Los Angeles seemingly moving forward with at least one new stadium — and probably two — the Vikings will be an attractive target for relocation because their Metrodome lease ends at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Now, the Vikings have made no threats to leave and probably will stick around if it looks like a stadium bill will eventually happen, but something happening in the 2012 session is looking more and more likely. And that will probably go for the Saints and Huskies ballpark proposals as well.

RELATED STORIES: Minnesota Legislature adjourns with no Saints ballpark funding; Bill funding Saints ballpark introduced in MN State Senate; Clock ticking on new Saints ballpark funding; New funding plan on horizon for Saints ballpark?; Could Ted Mondale help build a new Saints ballpark?; Dayton proposes $20M for new Saints ballpark; St. Paul makes Saints ballpark state-funding priority; First look: Proposed St. Paul Saints ballpark


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