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« February 2006 | Main | April 2006 »

House panel adds its support to U stadium funding plan

March 29, 2006
Star Tribune
Anthony Lonetree

A day after a Senate panel endorsed a new University of Minnesota stadium plan, a House committee Wednesday lent its support as well to the U stadium drive.

The House Capital Investment Committee, however, made clear in its 19-3 vote that it favored the stadium funding package being promoted by the university.

The House panel rejected efforts -- kept alive in one Senate proposal -- to prevent students from being tapped to help pay for the $248 million stadium. A bid to prohibit the U from selling stadium naming rights to a corporation also failed Wednesday.

The U's funding plan calls for a $50-a-year student fee increase and a $35 million naming-rights deal with TCF Financial Corp.

Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, said it was wrong for a stadium being described Wednesday as a window to and the soul of the university to carry a corporate name.

But Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, the bill's chief author, said there were plenty of precedents for such action at the U and other higher-education institutions nationally.

"This is not new ground," Abrams said.

A related move by Mahoney to add $1.4 million per year in state money to the project and to name the stadium in honor of veterans also was defeated.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Student Association voted overwhelmingly to back the $50-a-year student fee to help fund the project.

Two stadium bills pass Senate hurdle

They differ on naming rights, student fees

March 29, 2006
Aron Kahn
Pioneer Press

The University of Minnesota's new football stadium strategy passed its first test Tuesday at the state Capitol, but a panel of lawmakers punted several thorny financial issues to another committee.

Two stadium bills moved through the Senate Higher Education Committee on unanimous voice votes, indicating bipartisan support for a basic plan unveiled Friday with the support of Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

One of the bills, backed by the university, says funding should include student fees and a corporate name on the door. The other bill scraps the fee and the naming deal, with a key senator indicating those ideas are fundamentally tacky.

Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, whose district includes the university, said charging students $50 annually to help pay for the stadium is inappropriate in light of large tuition increases in recent years. He also wants the stadium name to honor veterans or a former university athletic hero or administrator.

Pogemiller, chairman of the Senate Tax Committee, called the university's $35 million naming rights deal with TCF Bank "nothing but advertising,'' and said the money should be made up with private donations or more state funds.

Under the basic plan, the state would buy 2,840 acres of university research land near Rosemount for $9.4 million a year for 25 years, and preserve the land for public recreation. The university would use the annual $9.4 million to help pay long-term debt on the proposed stadium on the Minneapolis campus.

A university-backed bill, sponsored by Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, incorporates those elements plus the student fees and naming rights. Pogemiller's bill would provide a larger state contribution — $11 million or $12 million a year — to make up for the elements he'd eliminate, but he didn't spell out where he'd get the money.

The Senate Finance Committee will deal with the funding questions, but first the House Capitol Investment Committee is scheduled to deliberate the matter today.

While senators and interested parties who testified Tuesday wanted to tweak the bill here and there, support for the land-for-stadium idea was palpable. The university brought a bench full of backers, including President Robert Bruininks and football coach Glen Mason.

Referring to the color and tradition of open-air campus stadiums, Mason said each time he returns to Minnesota after traveling to stadiums around the nation, he realizes "we're missing something here.''

Read the full story at:

Regents OK Gophers stadium land swap

University regents endorsed a plan to swap Rosemount land for more stadium support from the state.

March 27, 2006
Star Tribune
Mary Jane Smetanka

A new plan to fund an on-campus Gophers football stadium took its first step forward this evening when the Board of Regents voted to support trading university-owned property near Rosemount for increased state support for a stadium.

Regents voted 11-1 to support the measure, which will be heard Tuesday in a Minnesota Senate committee and Wednesday in a House committee.

Under the plan, which surfaced last Friday, the state would commit up to $9.4 million a year for 25 years to service debt on a Gophers stadium. Once those payments were in, the university would sell more than 2,800 acres of environmentally sensitive land at UMore Park to the state Department of Natural Resources for $1. The land, which borders fast-developing suburbs, would become a nature preserve.

The plan is viewed by university officials and legislative supporters as a jump start to a stadium bill that stalled last year. The new amendment raises state contributions by up to $2 million a year, splitting the cost of the $248-million stadium equally between the state and the university. Previous proposals had the school paying 60 percent of the cost. The added state support would halve the amount students would be expected to contribute, from $100 to $50 a year.

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U offers to swap land for stadium

A new plan calls for the U to swap some Rosemount land for more state financing support.

March 25, 2006
Star Tribune
Mary Jane Smetanka and Conrad Defiebre

A new proposal to fund an on-campus football stadium at the University of Minnesota would swap 2,840 acres of U-owned land near Rosemount for a bigger state contribution for a stadium.

The plan, unveiled Friday evening, is for the state to pay $9.4 million a year for 25 years to finance bonds for a stadium. In return, the state would own the land after 25 years and create a nature preserve. The land in the Vermillion River watershed contains a trout stream, forests, rolling hills and trails for horseback riders.

"This legislation is a win-win for the university and the entire state," U President Robert Bruininks said.

"It will result in some of the most beautiful, undeveloped land in the region being protected for generations to come, and it will provide the financing we need to bring Gopher football back to campus," the president's statement continued.

The university's Board of Regents will meet Monday to consider the plan. Committee hearings on the proposal are set for Tuesday in the Minnesota Senate and Wednesday in the House.

Read the full story at:

U, state overhaul stadium deal

March 25, 2006
Pioneer Press
Aron Kahn

A radically new financing plan for a University of Minnesota campus football stadium, hailed as a win-win for the university and the state, will scamper into state legislative hearing rooms next week to a probable cheering crowd of lawmakers.

Under the proposal, hammered out by a bipartisan group of officials and acclaimed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the state would acquire 2,840 acres of university research land near Rosemount at a cost of $9.4 million each year for 25 years.

The Dakota County land, which reportedly is environmentally sensitive, would then be protected from development and available for public recreation.

The university, in turn, would use the annual $9.4 million to help pay long-term debt on money borrowed to build the proposed stadium on the Minneapolis campus, just a long throw from where the former Memorial Stadium once sat.

The new financing arrangement substantially changes a proposal already considered most appealing of three stadium plans at the state Capitol — the others having been proposed by the Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Vikings.

The university had been asking for $7.4 million a year in state funds to pay for 40 percent of the stadium debt, under a bargain in which the university would raise 60 percent from private sources and student fees.
In the new plan, the state would pay 50 percent, which would allow the university to halve a previously proposed student fee of $50 per semester that would also go to debt reduction. Some lawmakers considered the $50 excessive.

"We're hopeful the Board of Regents will support this plan and the Legislature will act quickly to give our private-sector fundraising more momentum," university President Robert Bruininks said Friday in a statement.
The regents called a special meeting for 4 p.m. Monday to vote on the plan, and there's little doubt about its approval.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty asked for quick action, also. "The bipartisan leadership for this proposal is very encouraging. I urge legislators to support this win-win for the state and the university,'' he said through spokesmen.

The 2,840 acres in Dakota County, a chunk of the university's nearly 8,000-acre UMore Park, is considered some of the most beautiful, undeveloped land in the region. While it would be used for public recreation, the university would retain a right to use the land for agricultural research.

The proposal for the deal was brought to the university and Pawlenty by officials at various levels, including state Reps. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, and Denny McNamara, R-Hastings. Negotiations were held in the governor's office over the past week and announced to lawmakers in an e-mail late Friday afternoon.
"In football terms, this is another first down for the Gopher football stadium," said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, the Senate sponsor of the stadium-funding bill.

The proposal might be heard in a Senate committee as early as Tuesday and a House committee as soon as Wednesday.

Read the full story at:

Editorial: Let university control naming rights

Booting the TCF deal would send an ill-timed message.

Star Tribune
March 19, 2006

Deny the University of Minnesota the right to put a corporate donor's name on a new stadium, as some legislators want to do, and Gophers football likely won't return to campus anytime soon.
And that will be only part of the damage the Legislature will have done to the institution on which Minnesota pins so much of its hope for the future. The Legislature should not take this fundraising tool out of the university's hands.

Hanging a corporate name like "TCF Bank" on a stadium or other campus buildings understandably irritates some of the Minnesotans who love the university as their own. But those same Minnesotans want their university to thrive -- and no higher educational institution can do so, in today's tax-averse political climate, without the ability to raise substantial sums from the private sector.

At the university, the imperative to find corporate partners to build new facilities has been a matter of state policy since 1992. The university is on the hook to finance one-third of the cost of new campus buildings with resources other than state-issued bonds.

That policy, ironically, originated with Senate DFLers. Now it's a senior Senate DFLer, Tax Committee chair Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis, whose bill would strip away naming rights from the university's $35 million marketing contract with TCF Financial Corp. It also would toss out the university's plan to raise student fees $50 a semester to cover $53 million of the proposed stadium's $249 million cost.

Even if the Legislature agreed to fill the holes Pogemiller's bill would blow in the university's stadium financing plan -- and that's a big if -- rejecting the TCF deal would send an ill-timed, ill-advised message to potential donors. Minnesota's chance to develop a new biosciences industry hinges on the university's ability to quickly ramp up its bio-agri-medical research enterprise in the next 10 years. That won't happen unless the university can amass large corporate donations to supplement state bonding dollars.

An effort to privately raise $125 million for medical research at the university is in its early stages. If the Legislature tells a major funder that, despite its contractual arrangement with the university, it cannot have its name on a new stadium, potential donors to the medical drive will take note of how Minnesota treats the university's friends. Now would be a terrible time for the Legislature to give any of those friends the boot.

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