Resisting pressure from the Minnesota Vikings to back down, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission on Thursday unanimously agreed to use financial incentives and threatened penalties to try to keep the team in the Metrodome for two years beyond the end of its current lease.
The Vikings' response: "We've got to move on."
But, they added, that doesn't necessarily mean move away.
The commission, which owns the Metrodome and is the team's current landlord, made the move in the face of a blistering letter from Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf that said the proposal to extend their Dome lease left them "confused and questioning the future of this franchise."
True to their pledge to suspend relations with the commission until the "political games" ended, neither Wilf attended the commission's meeting Thursday.
But Vikings spokesman and Vice President Lester Bagley, addressing a previously scheduled Twin Cities North Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday in Coon Rapids, said that the team will continue to push for a new stadium -- with or without the stadium commission.
"Anyone not interested in helping us solve our long-term problem -- like, apparently, the Sports Commission -- we've got to move on," he said. "We made it clear we would not sign a lease without a stadium deal."
The commission, in a five-page resolution, promised the Vikings all post-season stadium receipts if they would extend their Dome lease beyond the current expiration in 2011. But it also threatened to resume charging the team annual rent of $4 million (after 10 years of playing in the Dome rent-free) if the team rejected an extension. The commission also wants the Vikings to match its own $500,000 funding for a 2010 study on redeveloping the Metrodome site.
Commission Chairman Roy Terwilliger, who tried but failed to remove the lease extension language from the resolution, said he considered the resolution merely a "starting point for negotiating" the Vikings' remaining years in the Metrodome. It has no contractual force at this point, he said.
The resolution was first approved Tuesday by the commission's finance committee. Committee chairman Paul Thatcher, who sponsored the measure, said it would buy time for the state to develop a public financing plan for a new multipurpose football stadium before the Vikings left town.
The team has two years left on its Metrodome lease after this season, and Thatcher said there was no way the Legislature will act on a stadium in 2010 while dealing with severe economic problems.
But the Vikings are betting heavily on a stadium solution in the upcoming session. Team officials have been courting the support of business leaders and talking to citizens about the economic benefits that a new stadium would deliver and the need to act now.
There were some signs Thursday that the Vikings and the commission may not be that far apart. In the past, the team has resisted an enclosed stadium; the commission, on the other hand, has insisted that a new stadium include a roof to ensure that it can be used year-round. But on Thursday, Bagley acknowledged the possibility of a roof five times during his lunch presentation.
And if Bagley's appearance in Anoka County suggested anything, it's that reconciliation between the Vikings and the commission can't be ruled out. The Vikings and Anoka bitterly parted ways in 2006 over plans to build a stadium in Blaine, yet Bagley on Thursday greeted the county's stadium negotiator, Steve Novak, with a warm handshake, saying: "We love you guys. You guys were great."
Thursday's stadium developments seemingly failed to ignite a call to arms in and around the State Capitol for a Vikings stadium.
Brian McClung, a spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said the Vikings are an important state asset "but with the state continuing to face difficult economic circumstances the stadium issue is not on the front burner."
Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat Anderson, a former state auditor, agreed that Minnesota has more important priorities than public money for a new stadium.
"We're in a severe recession," she said. "This isn't the time to spend, what is it -- hundreds of millions of dollars? ... There are other things that are much more important."
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, another candidate for governor and a longtime critic of publicly financed stadiums, wondered whether the apparent falling-out between the Vikings and the stadium commission was manufactured to create a sense of urgency for a new stadium.
"This will be this week's crisis. [In] another few months, they'll try another one," he said.