With the Vikings putting on the heat, House members got a chance to see for themselves why the team is seeking a new home.
Like a car owner trying to decide whether to pour more money into the jalopy or to junk the thing for a brand-new model, legislators on Monday roamed the Metrodome to size up the aging stadium and ask some tough questions of the landlords.
Can the Dome, economically speaking, make it if the Vikings pull out?
What's the condition of the physical and mechanical plant?
When a player spits on the field, where does it go?
With the Minnesota Vikings ratcheting up pressure for a new home, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Dome, invited House members on the commerce and local government committees to see for themselves why building a new multipurpose stadium makes more sense than indefinitely patching up the 28-year-old Teflon-roofed arena.
Lester Bagley, the Vikings' chief spokesman on stadium issues, met with the legislators at Target Field, the Twins' new home, where they were shown the difference between a state-of-the art facility and the Dome, which Bagley said is among the oldest stadiums in the NFL and has narrow concourses difficult to walk and inadequate restroom facilities for women.
"We're going to move forward with folks like today's committee chairs who are willing to work with us," he said.
The Vikings broke off ties with the commission last week over the latter's lease extension proposal that it passed in hopes of buying more time to push a new stadium through the Legislature. The team says it's not interested in extending its Metrodome lease, due to expire at the end of the 2011 season.
But as the group went through the Vikings locker room, gaped at storage areas and tossed around a football on the field, commission Executive Director Bill Lester and Chairman Roy Terwilliger made the case that having a climate-controlled stadium is good for the Twin Cities and Minnesota -- and that it can't work financially without the Vikings, which with the departure of the Twins and Gophers now rakes in more than three times the stadium revenue collected for all other Dome events combined.
"If the Vikings are gone, the end is very near," Lester told the group.
Lester said that the building's mechanical systems are fine. The heating and air conditioning system is up to date, and the roof was checked a couple of years ago and found to be in generally good shape, even though it's eight years past its warranty date.
But the scoreboard will need replacing in a couple of years, Lester said, and the five-year-old FieldTurf eventually will need replacing. Annual maintenance costs will run from $4 million to $6 million, he said.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, asked if the Vikings have completely ruled out renovating the facility.
Terwilliger said the team talks reconstruction, not renovation. Architects have told them it would be difficult to reuse much of the plant, which uses parts dating from the late 1970s.
"At some point, you have to scrap the whole thing and start over," he said.
Atkins, who chairs the House commerce committee, said the tour was "valuable" because he said he did not know that the Metrodome's inflatable roof had already outlived its useful life and that the stadium's seats were "wearing out."
But he said that the tour didn't sway him one way or another on whether the Vikings should get a new publicly financed stadium. "I haven't put myself into any particular camp," he said.
Rep. Mike Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, who chairs the House Local Government Division panel, said that he also found the tour valuable. But though Nelson, a business agent for a carpenters union, said he generally supported a new stadium, he added that the idea would be a "tough sell" at the Legislature.
"I would support a stadium for the fact of the jobs that are there," he said. "To me, it's a jobs issue."