MINNEAPOLIS - Construction of the new Vikings stadium is now officially underway. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held Tuesday morning in the parking lot outside the Metrodome.
The $975 million dollar facility is to open in 2016. Prior to that, the Metrodome roof will be deflated in January, then the rest of the structure will be demolished. Construction of the new arena will take place simultaneously.
For the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the Vikings will play outdoors in the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium. That prompted a remark from league MVP Adrian Peterson at Tuesday's groundbreaking.
"I am extremely excited," said Peterson. "I know my teammates are, as well. One thing I am not looking forward to is playing outside for two years, but you know, I make myself feel better because the opponent, they have to play outside as well." The remark drew laughter from hundreds gathered inside a tent for speeches before the dirt was turned.
Governor Mark Dayton drew the other laughter at the event for a remark about the Vikings' nail-biter overtime victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
"I feel a little bit like Coach (Leslie) Frazier must have felt after the game on Sunday. I cannot believe it is over and I cannot believe we have won!" said Dayton.
Vikings owners Ziggy and Mark Wilf praised the public officials who were instrumental in reaching a deal for the stadium construction.
"This is a monumental moment for the project as we will finally get the shovels in the ground and put thousands of Minnesota construction workers on the job to build this iconic facility," said Mark Wilf.
"What a day!" exclaimed Ziggy Wilf. "Since we became owners, it was always our intention to first bring a championship and build a new stadium. Well, we are barking on both and today is a great day for all the people of Minnesota."
Earlier in the day, leaders of some conservative groups called reporters to the Capitol in Saint Paul to blast funding for the state's portion of the stadium. Ted Lilly, President of the Minnesota Taxpayers League, noted plans to fund the state's part with revenue from electronic pulltabs.
"We are falling far short of the revenues. It is an utter failure. It is not working and the legislature had to come up with new ways to pay for this," said Lilly. "The taxpayers of Minnesota are on the hook for $350 million, approximately, of this. The taxpayers of Hennepin County, of Minneapolis, have $150 million that they are paying and really the public is paying for half of this stadium and we are not treated like partners."
"I find it to be a gross injustice that smokers, lower income people, middle class, are being stuck with the bill to pay for a stadium that is going to enrich a billionaire," said Dan McGrath, President of the Minnesota Majority.
Hearing of the criticism, Governor Dayton responded after the groundbreaking ceremony. "You know, they are not putting a single person to work. The only jobs they care about are their own. It is easy to demagogue a project of this size and scale, but there are going to be thousands of Minnesotans working on this project, on the Ryan project right next to it, that would not be working without these initiatives. So, the naysayers and just go say 'nay'."
Dayton had praise for Sports Facility Authority Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen's efforts to complete the stadium deal. He joked that he would put her in charge of another sometimes embattled project, the Southwest Light Rail Corridor project.