Collapsed roof could add fuel to stadium-debate fire

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2010 - 10:55 PM

While the Dome was the talk of the town after the storm, some legislators say the damage doesn't alter the key issues.

Within hours Sunday of the Metrodome's roof collapse, one Vikings fan group said the episode was yet another reason the team needs a new stadium.

That group, SavetheVikes, went so far as to compare the inflatable roof's latest problems with the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis three years ago, which killed 13, left more than 100 injured and created worldwide headlines. No one was injured in Sunday's roof collapse.

"Whether people like it or not," said Cory Merrifield, the group's founder, the Metrodome "is a part of the state's infrastructure."

Vikings President Mark Wilf said it was premature to discuss whether the collapse changes the debate over a new stadium. "I'm not going to comment on [the stadium issue]. For right now, we're focused on the Giants game tomorrow. There will be a proper time to discuss such things."

While the Metrodome's roof collapse is likely to add fuel to the stadium debate, key legislators said Sunday that the episode should not leapfrog the state's numbing $6.2 billion budget deficit in importance. "It doesn't make the Metrodome more important than solving the budget issues, I can tell you that -- no," said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, who in January will become the chair of the influential House Ways and Means Committee.

Over the past month, after Republicans won majorities in the House and Senate, Holberg and other incoming Republican leaders had said they might be open to trying to help the Vikings, who have said the team will not renew its Dome lease after the 2011 season.

Gov.-elect Mark Dayton, who has said he might support a new stadium if it made economic sense for Minnesotans, toured the Metrodome Sunday. "He said it was really eerie," said Dayton spokesperson Katharine Tinucci.

"Obviously, this will be something coming up, starting January third," she added.

Officials at the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the Metrodome's owner, said Sunday's collapse was the fifth incident involving the roof, but the first in nearly a quarter-century. Aside from total collapses in 1982 and '83 just after the Dome opened, they said, the roof had collapsed during construction and had partially torn in 1986 during a Minnesota Twins game.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, the incoming chair of the House Taxes Committee, said the collapse didn't change the fundamental issue: Though the team remains important to Minnesota, no workable plan exists to raise tax money for a new stadium that avoids using direct state aid. A new stadium, said Davids, is not more vital than providing state money for education, health care and public safety.

"I'll certainly give any proposals hearings in the Taxes Committee," said the nine-term legislator. "I'm hoping we can put a solution together."

Davids said he supported a plan, introduced in February but stalled at the Legislature, that would sell the Dome to the Vikings for $1. The proposal would require the team to remain in Minnesota for 20 years, abolish the sports facilities commission and presumably enable the team to remodel or rebuild. Under the plan, he said, the Vikings "can have all the revenue from the suites."

Said Davids: "I thought it was a great idea, but the Vikings didn't think it was so great."

Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, the incoming House minority leader, said the state's budget deficit remained a roadblock to any stadium solution on a state level. But he said the latest roof collapse was sure to be a factor in the debate. "It's the first thing I thought of," Thissen said upon hearing of the roof damage. The collapse, he said, "ties into the whole discussion."

"What it doesn't change [is] that we face a $6.2 billion deficit," he said. "If we had extra money laying around that we didn't need to put in other places, then the question would be a lot easier."

Roy Terwilliger, the sports facilities commission's chairman, said Sunday's events highlighted the "shortcomings" of the aging Dome.

"This just adds to it," said Terwilliger, who said he had not yet analyzed how the collapse affected the stadium push. He said that, while he had talked Sunday with the Vikings, they did not discuss the issue.

Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayer's League of Minnesota who opposes a new publicly funded stadium, said there was little to discuss. Repairing the roof, he said, would be far cheaper than building a new stadium, and that the Metrodome still had "a lot of useful life."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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