By David Bailey
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Minnesota state senators advanced a $975 million plan late on Tuesday to build a new domed stadium for the Minnesota Vikings that increased the National Football League team's proposed contribution to the project.
State senators adopted numerous other changes to plans negotiated by state, team and Minneapolis city officials for the proposed downtown Minneapolis stadium, including adding fees for parking, suites and league merchandise sold at the stadium.
Senators voted 38-28 to advance a plan after considering about three dozen amendments over 10 hours of discussion. The bill differs from one the state House advanced on Monday.
Legislators said they expected a conference committee on the plan, leaving a stadium agreement far from assured.
The Vikings have played at the Metrodome since 1982 and began a drive for a new stadium more than a decade ago, before owner Zygi Wilf bought the team in 2005. This session is the farthest a plan has advanced in the legislature.
This session's drive toward a stadium deal was jump-started in April after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with Governor Mark Dayton and other state political leaders.
Talks to replace the stadium intensified as the team's 30-year lease at the Metrodome neared an end and were bolstered by the collapse of its inflatable roof in a heavy snowstorm in 2010 that forced the Vikings to play two home games elsewhere.
Forbes valued the Vikings at nearly $800 million last year and the team's value would be expected to rise significantly if a new stadium is built.
Supporters have said an eventual Vikings move would be likely without a new stadium and the state would not likely host another Super Bowl or college basketball championship among other premier events without one.
"The issue before us is do you want to keep an NFL franchise here in the Twin Cities," Republican Senator Geoff Michel said. "I think the answer is loud and clear and it is yes."
"I don't want to cheer for the Green Bay Packers. I don't want to cheer for the Chicago Bears," he said of rival teams.
The Vikings would be the key tenant, but the stadium would host more than 300 other events each year including high school football and soccer games, and concerts.
Opponents of the funding plan questioned whether expanded charitable gambling would be sufficient to meet funding needs, whether gambling should be expanded at all and the fairness of subsidizing a private football business and other details.
"We are talking about a way for those who benefit most, those who utilize it most, paying for this stadium," Republican Senator Ted Lillie said in supporting user fees instead of gambling to support the public funding for the stadium.
Democratic Senator John Marty opposed the stadium plan.
"Yes I would like to see a new stadium, but I think Mr. Wilf and the Vikings can pay for it themselves," Marty said.
The plan brought to the Senate called for the Vikings to contribute $427 million, the state $398 million and Minneapolis $150 million with state issuing appropriation bonds to address the public contribution.
The state portion of the bonds would be covered by extending charitable gambling to include electronic pull-tabs and bingo. State hotel, liquor and restaurant taxes now used for the Minneapolis convention center would fund the city's portion.
The Senate raised the proposed Vikings contribution by $25 million and cut the state contribution by that amount. Representatives increased the Vikings contribution by $105 million on Monday, a proposal the team called "unworkable."
The Vikings would sign a 40-year lease in either proposal.
The Minneapolis City Council has voted 7-6 to support the stadium, but would have to vote again on a final plan.
(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)