Vikings can’t get stadium momentum

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2009 - 7:13 AM

Stadium talk, broached via a fiscal impact study at a legislative meeting, came up against a tough D -- as in the state's big deficit.

The Minnesota Vikings' already wobbly prospects of getting public financing for a new stadium this year got no firmer Monday at the State Capitol, where legislators said the state's dire financial picture made the project nearly unthinkable.

In doing so, a House panel brushed aside a new study by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, owners of the Metrodome, that said a new stadium on that site in downtown Minneapolis would generate $734 million in construction spending, create 13,400 jobs during construction and generate $32.2 million in taxes during the first year after a new stadium opened.

"To come in with a two-thirds publicly funded proposal for a brand new stadium here this session would appear to be a nonstarter," said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis.

Monday marked the first time this session that a proposed $954 million Vikings stadium had been publicly discussed. Since convening in January, the Legislature has been knee-deep in how to solve a nearly $5 billion state budget deficit.

Sports Facilities Commission members said they were not planning to introduce legislation this year for a new stadium. Officials for the Vikings, who have been meeting privately with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and key legislators and have not ruled out pushing for a stadium this year, were not in attendance.

Roy Terwilliger, the Sports Facilities Commission's chairman, acknowledged that raising the prospect of a new Vikings stadium and the aging Metrodome was "painful and uncomfortable," and almost immediately was challenged.

"When you talk about painful, I don't think you have any idea," said Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada.

Another legislator, Rep. Jeremy Kalin, DFL-North Branch, dismissed statements that all but four of the 32 teams in the National Football League had either built new stadiums or substantially renovated existing venues in the past decade. "We're living in a world where business as usual doesn't cut it anymore," said Kalin, who nonetheless noted that he like many others "live and die" with the team's on-field performance. "The world has drastically changed."

But Bill Lester, the Sports Facilities Commission's executive director, noted that the Vikings soon will be the last major tenant at the 27-year-old Metrodome and have a lease that expires after the 2011 season. As for the economic downturn, he said, the Legislature needed to think long term. "We will come out of this" recession, he said.

Even if the Vikings leave and the Metrodome remains, Lester added, the state will be left with big decisions. The Metrodome doesn't have cash flow without the Vikings, he said, and would not function without the team there.

The Vikings have indicated they would put up about $250 million of the cost of a new stadium.

Though few at the Capitol are talking publicly this year of a Vikings stadium, the idea has simmered just below the surface. The team, trying to instill a sense of urgency, emphasized the number of games left at the Metrodome -- 30 -- before its lease expires. Some influential legislators, notably Sen. Tom Bakk, the Senate Taxes Committee chairman, have also spoken of the number of remaining games and said that, absent a new stadium, the team will likely leave Minnesota.

After a top Vikings official criticized Pawlenty for not showing enough leadership on the issue, the governor and Vikings owner Zygi Wilf met and the team described the talks as productive. But in a sign of the continued delicate dance between the governor and Minnesota's most popular pro sports franchise, both the governor's office and the Vikings claimed afterward that it was the other side that asked for the meeting.

Monday's meeting also again put the spotlight on the Sports Facilities Commission, which in the past has been criticized at times as being too eager to do the Vikings' bidding for a new stadium.

A year ago, the commission concluded a nine-city "listening tour" across Minnesota that featured a multimedia show focused on what would happen to the Metrodome should the Vikings leave.

 

Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388

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