Deal would put new Vikings stadium near Metrodome

10:51 PM, Mar 1, 2012   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings and state and local representatives finally have an agreement in place to build a new stadium for the team.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Governor Mark Dayton, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak and Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf joined other state lawmakers to unveil an agreement for a new publicly owned Vikings stadium to be built on and around the current Metrodome site.

Calling it the "People's Stadium," Dayton said the $975 million stadium would be publicly owned and could be paid for without using any general fund tax dollars or creating new city or state taxes. Under the agreement, the Vikings would pay $427 million of that total cost. The state and the city of Minneapolis would make up the difference using charitable electronic pull tabs and existing Minneapolis Convention Center sales and hospitality tax.

The agreement is still pending approval by Minneapolis City Council and state legislature.

"This solution simply makes sense," Rybak said Thursday. "The site that has been the home of the Minnesota Vikings for the last 30 years will be its home for the next 30 years in a publicly-owned, modern facility that takes advantage of the infrastructure in place and offers Minnesotans world-class sports and entertainment - right in Minneapolis."

"The project would provide up to 8,000 construction jobs and an additional 5,000 jobs among suppliers during its three years of construction, employ many more through its ongoing operations and keep the Minnesota Vikings here for the next 30 years - all without using a single dollar of General Fund tax revenues," Dayton said.

Previously discussed plans for a Vikings stadium in Minneapolis pegged the cost at around $1 billion, with the team contributing more than $400 million and the state $340 million or more.

The Vikings have lagged at the bottom of the league in annual revenue in recent years at the Metrodome, which opened in 1982 as the quintessential multipurpose facility. The Metrodome was always functional over fancy and despite excellent sight lines for fans in most seats for football games, the concourses are cramped, the decor is drab and the amenities are outdated. The Vikings have been asking for public subsidies for a new stadium for more than a decade, citing their need to be sufficiently profitable in the annual $10 billion business that is the NFL. A snowstorm that forced the roof to cave in and collapse on Dec. 12, 2010, put that plea in sharper focus.

But the economic downturn in recent years put their quest in deeper trouble, too, particularly after Republicans gained control of the Minnesota Legislature at the start of 2011, forcing stadium supporters to abandon any financing schemes based on state or local tax increases.

Several different proposals and deals have appeared and fallen apart over the years. Just in the last few months, a suburban project in Arden Hills was scuttled by political complications and limited funding options. Another plan to build on the west end of downtown Minneapolis was derailed by an historic Catholic church that balked at the potential of nearby construction and disrupted Sunday mornings. That left the current Metrodome site on the east edge of downtown.

Any stadium deal that involves money from the city of Minneapolis faces a big hurdle to clear with the city council. While Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson have been enthusiastic supporters, other members have remained skeptical about diverting city resources to a privately owned sports franchise.

Council members cite a provision, approved by voters in 1997, that prohibits the city spending more than $10 million on a pro sports project unless it's approved by a public vote. For the new plan to work, that provision will likely have to be overridden by the Legislature since a majority of council members had previously been on the record in support of it.

If the deal can survive Minneapolis politics, that still leaves a heavy lift to get majority support in the state House and Senate. A stadium bill would likely be vetted by multiple legislative committees, some of which are chaired by tax and spending skeptics. GOP leaders, particularly House Speaker Kurt Zellers, have refused to assign the same urgency to a stadium vote this year as the project's supporters would like.

In his State of the State speech on Feb. 15, new stadium booster Gov. Mark Dayton criticized unidentified lawmakers for what he said was a reluctance to vote on a stadium bill this year and a desire to wait until after this fall's election. Dayton encouraged a vote in the current session, which must end by April 30. But nothing requires lawmakers to act this year.

The NFL would also have to approve any stadium deal since part of the Vikings' share would likely come from a league funding program to help build new facilities around the NFL.

For years, Vikings fans have pondered the threat of losing their beloved, bedeviling team, which began in 1961, if the Metrodome isn't eventually replaced.

Minnesota sports fans know all about losing professional franchises; the Lakers moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s and became an NBA powerhouse. The NHL's North Stars left for Dallas in 1993. For now, though, the threat of the Vikings actually leaving is a mild one. The team has steadfastly refused to acknowledge interest in moving while confirming previous contact from interested groups including developers in Los Angeles. Stadium projects there are planned but not under way without the promise of a new team; the NFL's deadline for relocation application already passed for 2012; Commissioner Roger Goodell also recently stressed the league's desire to put an expansion team in Los Angeles rather than one in an existing market.

(Copyright 2012 KARE and The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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