ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings' hopes of a new stadium are one affirmative vote away from becoming reality.
Only a state Senate vote stands between the franchise and the $975 million stadium the Vikings would move into ahead of the 2016 season. The House passed the stadium plan early Thursday by a 71-60 vote.
The stadium would lock down a treasured team no longer bound by a stadium lease, but also would go down as the one of the largest subsidized projects in state history at a time of tight government budgets.
The reworked bill has the Vikings paying $477 million, a significant cut above the figure team officials had once described as "set in stone." Though the package was tougher, it was clearly the team's only chance to replace the Metrodome, a 30-year-old facility the Vikings say has outlived its usefulness.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the team's billionaire owners, New Jersey developers Zygi and Mark Wilf, decided to lock in the deal rather than hold out for better terms, knowing the Legislature had only two days left to act.
"It is a heavy lift but it is the right thing to do for Minnesota," Bagley said.
The Vikings intend to take advantage of an NFL loan program, sell naming rights and possibly impose seat license fees to help cover the team's end of construction costs.
As revised, the fixed-roof stadium would draw on $348 million in state money, plus $150 million from an existing city of Minneapolis hospitality tax.
Under the bill, the Vikings would sign a 30-year lease on a stadium to be built on the site of the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The team would pay about $13 million annually in operating fees, though a public authority gets the power to rent out the building on non-game days for concerts, conventions and special events. The Wilfs would get exclusive rights to recruit a professional soccer team to Minnesota.
The bill gives the Vikings the option to upgrade to a retractable roof, but at their expense. Bagley said the Vikings haven't decided if they'll make that enhancement.
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.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, a Republican who was the stadium's chief House advocate, said getting the required votes depended on upping the team contribution by $50 million. The team long said it would give no more than $427 million.
"We knew we had to drive a hard bargain and we drove a hard bargain," he said.
If the Senate gives its OK later Thursday, the bill goes 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 get lured away. The city of Minneapolis would have a month to consent, which is considered a formality.
Outgunned but not going quietly, opponents expressed disgust that lawmakers were bowing to baseless fears of the team leaving if it doesn't get a new stadium.
"I think the state got rolled. Our constituents got rolled," said Rep. Tina Liebling, a Democrat from Rochester. "I think we can do much better."
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen was among those to slam the state's decision to authorize thousands of mini-gambling devices in bars and restaurants and take a cut of the profits. He characterized the plan as preying on people addicted to gambling.
"Rather than Robin Hood, we're robbing the poor to subsidize the rich," said Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe.
But ardent fan Larry Spooner Jr., the leader of a band of Vikings fans who held daily vigils at the Capitol during stadium discussions, was giddy with excitement. Spooner said he would hold off on celebrating until all of the votes were done.
"We are Vikings fans," he said. "We are prepared for the worst."