Eden Prairie bid an official farewell Monday to the Minnesota Vikings, the team that has called the city its off-field home for 36 years.
The city and several local organizations hosted a lunch recognizing the team's long history in the community at Bearpath Golf and Country Club, an event that drew Vikings' officials and Eden Prairie leaders as well as former players and staffers.
Eden Prairie Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens said that the Vikings' headquarters brought the city plenty of publicity, whether from a dateline in the sports section of a newspaper or nationally televised football coverage.
"They really got the name of the city out all across the nation," she said.
The actual move from Eden Prairie to the Vikings' new complex in Eagan won't occur until March, after the team and Minneapolis host Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in February.
Tyra-Lukens said she doesn't know what the future holds for the Winter Park property. She said she would love to see a large hotel with ballrooms and conference spaces there, something she said the city lacks.
David Lindahl, the city's economic development manager, said the city is speaking with the Wilf family, professional developers who own the Vikings and the Eden Prairie property. He said he expected the family to make a decision about the space in the first quarter of 2018.
Owner Zygi Wilf said he would redevelop the land but did not mention any specific development proposals. He did say that he plans to keep the purple wooden ship overlooking Viking Drive. Speakers at the luncheon included Chuck Foreman, a star running back for the Vikings during the 1970s who now lives in Eden Prairie.
"Eden Prairie has been a very vital part of the growth of the Minnesota Vikings and vice versa," Foreman told the luncheon crowd. "They may be leaving ... but the heart will always be here."
The team opened its Eden Prairie facility off Hwys. 494 and 169 in 1981, back when much of the city was farmland and its population hovered around 16,000. Foreman said he had doubts about moving to what he thought a "country town."
The 138,000-square-foot facility was named Winter Park after Max Winter, the team's co-founder and president. It was a state-of-the-art complex at the time, Foreman remembered, with practice fields, offices and the purple ship.
Both the Vikings and Eden Prairie expanded during the 1980s and '90s. The city continued to develop the business district surrounding Winter Park, an area it now calls the "golden triangle," and the Vikings played their games at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.
Players and coaches, including former running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Brett Favre, bought homes in Eden Prairie to cut their work commute. Mike Grant, son of legendary head coach Bud Grant, has won several state championships as head football coach for Eden Prairie High School since 1992.
But in recent years the team said it was in desperate need of space that the Eden Prairie site couldn't provide. The massive Eagan facility, more than twice as large as Winter Park, will bring all employees of the franchise together under one roof.
At Monday's lunch, Tyra-Lukens handed Wilf a plaque declaring the city's appreciation for the team's time there.
"We always strived to be good neighbors and good citizens, and the Eden Prairie community has been a most gracious host," Wilf said.