California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger helped clear the way Thursday for a new football stadium to be built near Los Angeles and in the process sent a slight shiver through Minnesota Vikings fans.
As he signed legislation Thursday designed to fast-track a stadium by exempting it from state environmental laws, Schwarzenegger signaled the state would be looking outside its borders for a new team.
"A team does not have to necessarily come from a California city," he said. "It can come from somewhere else, or it could be a new team that is created."
California developers have reached out to the Vikings in the past, and Schwarzenegger's comments have refueled speculation that the Vikings have, at the very least, increased leverage in their quest for a new stadium in Minnesota.
The Vikings were quick Thursday to reiterate that while they were monitoring developments in California, the team had so far rebuffed attempts from the California developers to consider moving to Los Angeles.
Though the Southern California stadium still faces significant financial hurdles, Thursday's developments were being watched intently in Minnesota, where the Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires after the 2011 season. With the Legislature facing a significant state budget deficit and a governor's race in 2010 -- and with most of the state's leading politicians shying away from the issue -- the team will face an uphill political struggle next year.
In Thursday's bill-signing ceremony, Schwarzenegger touted the fact that the stadium would be privately financed -- a significant difference from the Vikings proposal in Minnesota that would rely heavily on public money. "It won't cost the taxpayers a dime," Schwarzenegger said. "In California, we don't build stadiums with public money."
A Schwarzenegger spokesman said Thursday the governor's office is not involved in trying to lure a team to Los Angeles.
"We're not engaged in helping Los Angeles land an NFL team," said spokesman Aaron McLear. But, he added, "It's our hope that the new team is not poached from San Diego, San Francisco or Oakland." McLear said the governor's primary motivation in moving the stadium project forward was to create jobs and bring an NFL franchise back to Los Angeles after a 15-year absence.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy minimized the impact of any new stadium in California on the Vikings. McCarthy said the California developers have been given no assurances they would be awarded an NFL franchise.
"We have been following today's actions," McCarthy said Thursday. "As it relates to a specific team, we haven't engaged in that part of the process."
"We have been, like [Vikings owner Zygi Wilf], working to keep the team in that area," McCarthy added. "That is our goal."
Stadium with development
The California proposal, led by developer Ed Roski Jr., would build a 75,000-seat, 3 million-square-foot stadium complex that would also feature an orthopedic hospital, a movie and live performance theater and office and retail space.
In pushing for a new stadium on the site of the Metrodome, where the Vikings have played indoors for the past 27 years, Wilf has envisioned a similar approach in wrapping a stadium with surrounding development, but has gotten little public support.
Roski's company, which did not respond to requests for comment Thursday, has reportedly said it would wait until after the current NFL season ends before prospecting for a tenant for its stadium.
This month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said his office had been in talks with Roski. "Ed Roski has been in touch with our office on a regular basis about the progress he is making in getting a stadium built. At this stage, it is clear he has a project that can be built," Goodell said.
NFL officials also this week released statistics showing that a recent pro football game drew more viewers in Los Angeles than a major league baseball playoff game -- even though the baseball game featured an L.A. team.
"They've never said that they will leave," said Roy Terwilliger, who chairs the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns the Metrodome. "I take them at their word."
But Terwilliger acknowledged that Thursday's developments in California were likely to stir speculation. "I suppose it is possible that, you know, that people will look at this, and there will be a cause for more urgency," he said.
Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, said the best opportunity to build a Vikings stadium may have come and gone in 2006, under a failed plan to construct a stadium in Anoka County. Since then, said Betzold, who helped sponsor the Anoka County plan, "we've proposed everything that anybody could think of [in terms of public financing a stadium] and nothing has stuck."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673