If the Vikings ultimately build on a suburban site, they'll run against a 20-year NFL trend.
Nearly eight months have passed since the Minnesota Vikings picked Arden Hills as their next home, but it's still unclear whether a new stadium might wind up in suburbia -- where the team began 50 years ago -- or in the city the team has made its home since the 1980s.
If recent NFL history is a guide, look for the Vikings to stay in downtown Minneapolis. On the other hand, the last two NFL stadiums went up in suburbs.
For nearly 20 years, far more NFL stadiums have been built in urban than suburban settings. In that period, 16 of 21 NFL stadiums were built in central cities, 11 of them in downtown districts.
That grew out of a desire to take advantage of infrastructure already in place, which keeps costs down, and rejuvenation of many urban centers as attractive places to live and visit.
A stadium in suburban Arden Hills "depends on a development model that all signs indicate we're transitioning out of," said Charles Marohn, a Minnesota planner who writes for Strong Towns development blog. "Is it really smart to throw a billion dollars of leveraged funds into a development model that's clearly on the wane?"
But Los Angeles stadium watcher Jaboner Jackson is convinced NFL officials of late are looking favorably on suburbs. "The trend has definitely been towards suburban sites," he said.
In L.A., expected to get a new stadium soon for one, or possibly two, NFL franchises -- with the Vikings among potential candidates -- urban and suburban sites are contending. Jaboner, who writes for the FootballPhDs.com blog, said the NFL encouraged developers in assembling the suburban L.A. plan.
The newest NFL stadiums, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey's Meadowlands (home of New York's Giants and Jets) and Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, were built on suburban sites after team owners explored urban options that didn't pan out or offer more money.
Unable to make headway for several years on a new stadium in Minneapolis, the Vikings briefly agreed to a deal with Anoka County in 2005 and jumped last May at Ramsey County's invitation to move to an abandoned ammunition plant site in Arden Hills.
Lester Bagley, Vikings' vice president for stadium development, said last week that team officials remain committed to Arden Hills, but added they're also examining one downtown Minneapolis site and have ruled out another. Legislators have encouraged the team to review other options.
Stadium location is driven largely by funding, and lack of a realistic public financing plan may be the biggest reason the site of the Vikings' future home remains murky. It's difficult to decide where to break ground when you don't know how you're going to pay for it.
Financing plans by Ramsey County and Minneapolis, which involve hospitality and sales taxes, respectively, have gotten mixed receptions. The last proposed state financing plan is widely considered flawed.
The Twin Cities has grappled with where to put sports facilities for 60 years, since civic and business leaders became serious about landing big league franchises. Metropolitan Stadium was built in the 1950s in Bloomington, acceptable to St. Paul backers who didn't want it in Minneapolis.
By the early 1970s, the Twins and Vikings were unhappy with the erector-set stadium, and the Minneapolis City Council -- tired of helping subsidize the Met and intrigued by development potential -- proposed a stadium downtown. Minneapolis business interests provided the needed push, and the Metrodome won approval in 1979 from the Legislature and city officials.
Pros and cons
The same back-and-forth scenario has played out in other metro areas.
In 2004, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wanted to move his team from the suburbs to Dallas, where it began. When city and county officials balked, Jones looked elsewhere.
Before long, voters in suburban Arlington approved a sales tax increase to raise $325 million. The $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium opened two years ago.
Since Jones broke ground, MetLife Stadium and the Cardinals' University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., have gone up in suburbs. The Colts' Lucas Oil Stadium opened in 2008 in downtown Indianapolis.
Mark Rosentraub, sports management professor at the University of Michigan, said a suburban site makes little sense if public money is involved. He said there would be little return for the public on a stadium that didn't leverage entertainment and business hubs, such as downtown districts.
"You're stretched about as thin as you want to be with the two downtown areas trying to be centers," Rosentraub said. "Why would you want to risk that kind of problem? You're not New York; you're not L.A."
If team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf footed the stadium bill themselves, he said, the choice of stadium locations would rightly be theirs alone.
"If they want to do it on their dime, there's no reason for us to have this conversation," Rosentraub said.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455