Now the real game begins.
After weeks of intensive closed-door negotiations, Gov. Mark Dayton announced a Minnesota Vikings stadium deal Thursday that must still face its biggest hurdles -- a skeptical Legislature and a reluctant Minneapolis City Council.
A $975 million stadium on the Metrodome site could open as early as the 2016 season, but only if Dayton and other backers can persuade legislators to vote for a $398 million state subsidy and get council members to agree to the diversion of $150 million in hospitality taxes without going to a referendum.
Despite the hard lobbying task ahead, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said that Thursday was a day he had looked forward to for the entire seven years he's owned the team. "This is an exciting day because the dream of keeping the Minnesota Vikings here for generations to come is close at hand," he said.
Dayton said the bill, to be introduced Monday, would build "a premier stadium" to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, showcase major events and create up to 13,000 construction-related jobs and 2,000 permanent positions -- all without general fund dollars.
He urged that the City Council act quickly and legislators hold a vote on the bill this session. "I ask them to consider carefully what is at stake for Minneapolis and for all of Minnesota," Dayton said.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who faces a split council, said the agreement makes "a compelling case" for the state and city's future.
"We shouldn't do mediocrity in Minnesota," Rybak said. "But we are also a practical state, and we're a state that requires us ... to do things that are in the self-interest of the voters."
At the Capitol announcement, the stadium's chief legislative backers said the agreement offered the best chance for winning bipartisan support.
"Minnesota needs to decide whether or not we, in fact, do want to keep this team in Minnesota," said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead. "I do. I'm committed to it."
Neither Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, nor House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, made the same commitment.
"It's up to the advocates, the proponents, to get it through the committee process," Zellers said. He said he might not give his opinion until the bill reaches the House floor.
Zellers and Senjem said the stadium proposal may change as it moves through the legislative process.
"It will chug and churn and it will more than likely ... even change a little bit as it tries to find its path," Senjem said. "There is certainly no assurance at this point that it ever gets to the floor."
Legislators were anxious to learn more, but they harbored doubts about what they knew already.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said he was concerned the Legislature was "kind of held hostage to a corporate entity that wags the fear of leaving."
Sen. Scott Dibble, a Minneapolis DFLer, worried about the diversion of resources.
But others were ready to see the stadium built.
"The governor has done his job, and now we'll do ours. I do want to get this done," said House Taxes Committee Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston.
"I think it can pass," said Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief Senate sponsor of the stadium proposal, said backers will work on bill details Friday.
How it will work
The state plans to issue bonds for its share of stadium costs and pay them off with gambling profits from electronic pulltabs. Legislators must change the law to allow bars and restaurants to operate handheld gambling devices.
Officials say that type of device avoids a direct conflict with tribal casino gambling, sidestepping a court battle that could mire stadium financing in litigation.
The new plan allows for a 65,000-seat, fixed-roof stadium, half on the Dome's footprint and half in its east parking lot. It includes a large plaza on the downtown side of the Dome, a new parking ramp connected to the stadium by skyway and a city block dedicated to tailgating on game days.
The tailgating area would include a block now owned by the Star Tribune, the only one of the newspaper's five downtown blocks that lies in the proposed stadium site. Other Star Tribune blocks, including the one that houses the news operations, are listed in the stadium designs as "future development opportunities."
City development chief Chuck Lutz said there is no developer or plan for those sites, but they "have prime development potential for something."
The stadium plaza also includes the light-rail transit station across Chicago Avenue and part of another block that contains the Hennepin County morgue and crime lab.
Team President Mark Wilf said the Dome site was "the most cost-efficient stadium alternative."
The Wilfs' preferred stadium site had been the former ammunition plant in Arden Hills. A deal to build a stadium there was announced with fanfare last year but withered when Ramsey County was unable to come up with viable financing.
NFL loan may be in play
Under the new agreement the Vikings would kick in $427 million -- roughly the amount the team pledged to the Arden Hills project. The Wilfs declined to say where that money would come from, but it's believed the team may get a loan of up to $200 million from the National Football League's restructured loan program.
The team's contribution would cover 44 percent of the construction, with state and city funding making up the remaining 56 percent of the $975 million in upfront costs. Of the $1.5 billion long-range cost of construction, maintenance and debt service, the Vikings' share would be $754.1 million -- a little more than half the total. The city would pay long-range costs of $338 million, nearly 23 percent. The state's contribution is capped at $398 million in upfront costs.
The stadium would be run by a new stadium authority, with three members appointed by the governor and two by Minneapolis. The authority would be responsible for cost overruns, unless it agrees to let the team manage construction.
The Vikings would keep all revenue from NFL events, including concessions and club seat and suite revenue. It also would get the money from naming rights and advertising on the stadium site. Revenue from events not related to the team would go to the stadium authority.
Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Ted Mondale, Dayton's stadium point man, said passing a bill this session would allow construction to begin this year with the goal of the 2016 season being played in the new stadium.
Because it would occupy only part of the Dome's footprint, Mondale said that much of the new facility could be built while the Vikings remained at the Dome. After the 2014 season, the Dome would be knocked down and the team would play its 2015 home schedule at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium.
Fewer games would need to be played at the U, Mondale said, if the stadium can be pushed farther east on the site.
Dayton said he would be working on the stadium project "until we get it done," and promised that opponents on the council would hear from him.