Zygi Wilf was so buoyant Wednesday that, in his first moments as the Vikings owner, he instantly praised Minnesota's weather.
He said he likes the state's climate so much he's ready to roll up his sleeves for an open-air stadium, with public funding as "part of the formula."
He confirmed that he's actively in the market for land in the Twin Cities. After laying down $600 million for the football team, he seemed ready to part with even more money for prime stadium
acreage, possibly in Anoka County.
Wilf, 55, the shopping center mogul from New Jersey, wearing a striped tie with a hint of Vikings' purple, won unanimous approval Wednesday from NFL owners to take over Minnesota's most popular pro sports franchise.
He instantly grabbed his new possession by its horns and ran with it, issuing a series of energetic stadium statements.
"I understand over the last couple years the process has stalled," Wilf said of Minnesota's enduring stadium debate, "but I'm looking to get the process moving along."
Bluntly, he said: "I'm a strong believer of an open [-air] venue. I think that it is a good advantage to have some of the other teams come up to our nice warm Minnesota winters so they can enjoy
playing football up where it hurts, a la Green Bay."
As for public money in the project, Wilf said: "It is important to be able to get a world-class venue for our world-class franchise [public funding] would probably be an important requirement."
He added: "My background in real estate and dealing with landowners and working with government will put me in the best position to accomplish that end result."
Wednesday's 32-0 vote by the NFL's barons in an ornate ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton ended a three-year saga that began when current owner Red McCombs placed the Vikings up for sale - or relocation - on May 20, 2002, frustrated that he couldn't get a stadium built.
McCombs' era seemingly culminated in an announced sale in February to Reggie Fowler, who was to be the first black owner of an NFL team.
Weeks later, when it became clear that Fowler, an Arizona businessman, didn't have enough money to buy the team, Wilf, who was one of Fowler's limited partners, filled the void.
Originally set to close on June 9, the Vikings' sale will officially close the following week.
Wilf's partners are his brother Mark; cousin Leonard; investors David Mandelbaum and Alan Landis; and Fowler.
Zygi Wilf is expected to visit Minnesota soon - perhaps this week - where he'll find the Legislature in special session and where Vikings lobbyist Lester Bagley and Anoka County stadium boosters
are poised to jump-start their campaign.
Under a new plan, Anoka County proponents are supporting the creation of a "stadium authority." In the plan, representatives from the state, the county and potential sites, such as Blaine or
Lino Lakes, and the new ownership will attempt to come up with the parameters of a finance plan to present to the Legislature in 2006.
Still, Anoka County officials are disappointed in Wilf's open-air approach. The Blaine proposal has long assumed a new Vikings stadium, with a roof, would replace the Metrodome.
County stadium project manager Steve Novak said Wednesday the state of Minnesota would lose its chance in the future to play host to events such as Super Bowls and NCAA men's Final Fours without a roofed facility.
But Novak isn't blaming Wilf.
"It's really not [ Wilf's] job to fight to put a roof on the building," said Novak. "That should be the state of Minnesota's to keep us in the North American marketplace for the next 30 years, to preserve those state sales taxes."
Brian McClung, a spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, called the Wilf purchase "a fresh start that can't hurt" the stadium process. But, he added, "the basic dynamics stay the same."
That suggests a continuation of the Vikings' frustration - no matter who the owner - even as the University of Minnesota football team and the Twins seek stadiums, too.
Still, Wilf flatly stated that relocating the Vikings to another city is not on his agenda.
"No way," he said. "To me this is not a matter of economics, this is a matter of passion. We will be in the Minneapolis area forever."
Fowler's reduced stake in the deal was a blow to the NFL's efforts to diversify its all-white ownership roster.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said he wasn't embarrassed by Fowler's fall from general partnership or by the process, which included, amid fanfare, the Feb. 14 announcement that Fowler would be the Vikings' lead owner.
Tagliabue said that, under NFL rules, it was McCombs who had responsibility for negotiating a sale with an owner, not the league.
Tagliabue said when the Fowler deal was first presented to the NFL, "There was a clear opportunity for the deal to get done."
It was not a matter of Fowler's net worth, Tagliabue said, but of his "liquidity," that is, his ability to come up with the cash of $150 million to be the general partner.
As for the absence still of a black owner among the NFL's ranks, Tagliabue said, "When I met with Reggie early on, he emphasized to me that he didn't want to be viewed as an African-American owner; he wanted to be viewed as an owner. He felt that his business record and his interest in football transcended race. That was his perspective. I think everyone thinks it would be nice to diversify our ownership and have an African-American in a general partner position. [But] we ended up with a very strong ownership group and with Reggie in it, I think it's the best of both worlds."
Wilf wouldn't comment on what share of the team Fowler will own. Neither did Fowler later in the day when he spoke to local reporters in a telephone conference call.
While admittedly nervous and clearly unfamiliar in a room full of microphones and minicams, Wilf revealed a wry sense of humor.
Once, as he spoke, a cellphone rang in the audience.
Wilf stopped, reached for his right pants pocket to show it wasn't his phone, shrugged and asserted, "Not me - it's somebody else," triggering laughter from the room full of reporters.
That episode came minutes after he was summoned into a hotel ballroom for his NFL coronation. It was 11:21 a.m., Washington time, when NFL Chief Operating Officer Roger Goodell emerged from the room, the owners' approval vote completed, and motioned to Wilf.
Wilf entered into the room with the NFL's czars, and was introduced to his comrades.
Soon, a host of familiar-faced football moguls - like New England's Bob Kraft and Dallas' Jerry Jones - barged through the ballroom doors.
Wilf, smiling, followed, a changed man. He was the Vikings owner, and now the hard work begins.