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Continued: Doubts, controversy persist over $975 million Vikings stadium deal

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 27, 2013 - 6:55 AM

Lanning, R-Moorhead, who was involved in many late-night negotiating sessions in the spring of 2012, said it’s easy now to second guess.

At the time of the financing negotiations, he said there was legitimate concern that the Wilfs could sell the team if a new stadium wasn’t built. He also points out that the state pressed the owners for an additional $50 million late in the game, ensuring that the deal was cut, the stadium would get built and the team would remain in the Twin Cities for another generation.

“The reality is … if we had pressed for more than that, very likely the team would have been sold, and we wouldn’t have a team in Minnesota, and we wouldn’t have been able to rebuild a facility that all the other folks would be able to use,” Lanning said.

But even the former Moorhead mayor has been surprised by the continued controversy.

“I certainly knew there were going to be continuing issues, but I did not anticipate that certain issues would turn into big issues here,” he said.

Projections for electronic pulltab revenues, coming from gaming manufacturers, were so flawed and off the mark that the state, after much controversy, gave up on e-games as a source of funding months ago and turned to alternative sources. By last week, a year after the games were introduced, state officials had determined that they would not have contributed a dime to the project.

Even Dayton admitted failure, calling the funding strategy “ill-advised.”

When the Vikings surveyed season-ticket holders last fall to gauge their willingness to pay thousands of dollars in license fees to reserve the best seats, Dayton blew up, threatening in a letter to the Wilfs to undo the deal if they passed on a substantial share of the construction costs to the fans.

He later softened, but not until the team gave assurances that the pricing wouldn’t mirror the hefty fees paid in such larger markets as San Francisco or New York.

Dayton spoke out on the issue again last week, however, expressing concerns that the Vikings owners could generate so muc h money from seat licenses, naming rights and other sponsorships that they might not have to invest much of their own money in the deal.

He urged the stadium authority, which sells the licenses but retains the team as marketing and selling agent, to keep the fees “at an absolute minimum.”

“Where they set the limits for these seat licenses is going to have a huge impact on how affordable it is for Minnesotans,” Dayton said later. “A personal seat license is an add-on to the cost of the ticket. Every additional dollar takes away from the affordability for most Minnesotans.”

The acrimony between the governor and the Wilfs comes as Dayton gears up for re-election in 2014.

Barrett and others, meanwhile, wonder why more background information about the Wilfs’ legal troubles in New Jersey wasn’t known or made public 18 months ago.

Lanning said negotiators were aware of the lawsuit, which spanned two decades and initially resulted in the Wilfs prevailing in court before the case was appealed, but “no one raised it as a major issue along the way.

“He was not in trouble with the NFL,” Lanning said of Zygi Wilf, the team’s principal owner. “No matter how we may have felt about the owner’s business record, he was the owner, and we had to deal with it.”

More noise to come?

Tom Stinson, an economist at the University of Minnesota and the former state economist, said part of what’s playing out now is a sense of buyer’s remorse.

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