Longtime Metrodome chief leaves

Bill Lester, on the job for 25 years, is "happy to take a step back."

Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission for the past 25 years, announced at Thursday's final commission meeting that he will leave the position on July 31.

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With the imminent demise of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission -- and the Metrodome -- comes the departure of longtime executive director Bill Lester.

Lester, 66, announced at Thursday's final commission meeting that he will leave the position on July 31, after 25 years on the job.

"It's been a marvelous, marvelous journey," he said. "Change is inevitable, but growth is optional. I'll choose growth."

The commission, which owns and operates the 30-year-old Metrodome, will be fully dissolved in mid-August. At its final formal meeting on Thursday, its seven-member board transferred its contracts and obligations to its successor -- the newly created Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which will work with the Vikings to build a $975 million, multipurpose stadium on the Metrodome site.

Lester, who will be paid $77,500 in severance, will consult with the new authority through the end of the year.

"I don't like the word retirement," Lester said after the meeting. "I have a passion for these issues and am proud of what we have been able to accomplish in the past 25 years. But I'm happy to take a step back."

Lester's annual salary upon departure was $155,018. His successor with the new authority, Ted Mondale, will be paid about $2,000 more a year.

Lester took over the commission in 1987, succeeding Jerry Bell, who resigned to become president of the Twins.

Before joining the commission, he worked for the Metropolitan Council for 11 years and was a member of the North St. Paul-Maplewood school board for six years.

During Lester's time at the helm, the Metrodome was the home of the Vikings, the Twins and the Gophers football team. It also hosted the World Series in 1987 and 1991, baseball's All-Star Game in 1985, the 1992 Super Bowl, and NCAA Final Four basketball championships in 1992 and 2001. It also was home for the Timberwolves during the team's inaugural season.

Of all the events, however, Lester said he took the greatest satisfaction in seeing the Dome host the opening ceremonies for the 1991 International Special Olympics. He also enjoyed the annual high school football and soccer tournaments.

"The memories of Grandma and Grandpa coming in from Pequot Lakes to see Johnny play for a state championship -- I'll never forget," he said.

Lester also oversaw the repair of the stadium's roof after it collapsed in a snowstorm in December 2010.

Mondale, who has served as the commission's chairman the past 18 months, said a final celebration of the commission's work will be held on Aug. 15 at the Metrodome. Current and former commissioners and staff members are invited to attend.

richm@startribune.com • 612-673-4425 pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482

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