Despite deficit, Vikings won’t relent on stadium

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 18, 2009 - 11:46 PM

Despite the deficit, the team is still lobbying the Legislature, stressing that their Dome lease is up in 2011.

Even as legislators grapple with numbing economic news and most discussions at the State Capitol involve budget deficits, proponents of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings have been quietly trying to rally interest in the project.

Over the past two weeks, labor leaders and the Vikings have met privately with legislative leaders, and while the odds of a publicly subsidized stadium proposal advancing this year remain long, the idea is showing some signs of life.

After a Vikings official publicly criticized Gov. Tim Pawlenty for not showing enough leadership on a new stadium, Pawlenty met with owner Zygi Wilf late last week and a team official said the Vikings were "pleased" with the outcome.

The president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council met Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller. While Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, had little to say afterward, trades council president Dick Anfang boldly predicted legislation for a multi-million-dollar stadium would be introduced this year "at the right time" with an aim of beginning construction in mid-2010.

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, owner of the Metrodome, where the Vikings have played for a quarter century, is scheduled to brief a House committee Monday on a study that analyzes jobs and tax revenues that have been generated by Dome. The study is also expected to show how those figures might look in the future, after the Minnesota Twins, the University of Minnesota football team and possibly the Vikings leave.

"It's going to be kind of a 'Jack Webb-Dragnet, just-the-facts, ma'am' [report]," said Bill Lester, the commission's executive director. "The [Vikings'] lease agreement expires after the 2011 season [and we'll report on] some of the analysis we've been doing."

Politically explosive

Though major hurdles remain for a stadium projected to cost $954 million and, according to the Vikings, requiring a massive public subsidy, the Vikings have drawn some sympathy at the Capitol.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, the Senate Taxes Committee chairman and a 2010 gubernatorial candidate, said Wednesday he had recently met with Wilf and said the stadium's prospects should not necessarily be tied to the ongoing recession. "I don't know if there's ever a good time," Bakk said. "We've been in pretty bad shape, really, since 2003 and [a new Twins stadium] happened during a down time in the state's economy."

Bakk said he would not be critical of Wilf for moving the Vikings from Minnesota if a stadium was not built. "I think what matters for the Vikings is there's 30 football games left in Minnesota," he said.

Like others, Bakk said he was unsure whether a stadium proposal would move forward at the Legislature this year.

Since 2006, when the Legislature approved new, outdoor stadiums for both the Twins and the university, the Vikings have tried to sustain momentum by working with the sports facilities commission on a plan to build a new stadium on the Metrodome site. While the team has been unsuccessful in finding a local government partner to help finance the project, the Vikings have emphasized the lease expiration and acknowledged that the developer of a stadium outside Los Angeles had been in contact with the team.

There is agreement at the Capitol that any attempt to move a stadium bill would likely be politically explosive.

"I've heard twitters about it," said Rep. Mike Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, who chairs the House Local Government Division Committee, where the facilities commission will present its report. "I have sympathy for the Vikings.

"[But] this is a bad time. It'd be very politically hard," Nelson said.

"There's no plan or anything that I'm aware of," said Pogemiller, who added that, should a proposal emerge, "we'd absolutely listen."

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor told Wilf that the team is "an important part of the fabric of Minnesota, but that the focus at the Capitol is on dealing with the state budget deficit and the difficult economic situation."

Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388

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