NFL warning of sale, move adds pressure for stadium deal

The NFL says there's a list of buyers and the Wilfs may be ready to listen with stadium plan stalled.

Arden Hills stadium proposal.
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This rendering shows a proposed new Vikings stadium in Arden Hills.

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Conditions are "getting ripe'' for the Minnesota Vikings to be sold and relocated, a top NFL official warned Wednesday.

In an interview just hours after Gov. Mark Dayton offered league officials a "sobering" assessment of the chances for legislative action to publicly fund a new stadium this year, Eric Grubman, vice president of business operations for the NFL, said team owner Zygi Wilf was "dejected" by the political stalemate.

"This was portrayed as having support and likely to pass as recently as a couple of weeks ago," Grubman said. "So this will come as quite a blow."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be in Minnesota on Friday to talk with Dayton about the team's future.

"There are plenty of willing buyers. I think the Wilfs do not want to sell the franchise, but I think there is a point where they probably would be open-minded," Grubman added. "I would not be surprised if [Goodell] tells the governor, if he asks, what other cities are interested."

Grubman said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, chairman of the NFL stadium committee, plans to be part of Thursday's conversation, a step that Grubman said was a "pretty serious" sign that other team owners are concerned about the Vikings situation.

"This is getting ripe," Grubman said. "You have a very dejected ownership. They've run out of options. They feel like they've done everything they've been asked to do, and they can't get a vote."

Little hope at Capitol

Even some of the stadium's biggest supporters were saying a public subsidy package for the stadium -- at any location -- is likely dead as the Legislature readies to adjourn.

"It looks really bad right now," said Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove.

In an attempt to generate some movement, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said Wednesday he would be willing to put up enough DFL votes to get the stadium plan through a Senate panel where it has been stalled for weeks.

But Bakk, the leading DFLer in the Senate, said there were no indications yet from the Republican Senate majority that the panel would reconvene. "Election-year politics obviously are getting in the way of resolving the stadium," he said.

The stadium subsidy package has faced long odds all spring, but the gloom surrounding the project has intensified since Monday, when a House panel surprisingly rejected the plan for a stadium in downtown Minneapolis. The state would have paid $398 million of the cost and the city of Minneapolis $150 million.

Just one of six DFLers on the committee voted for it, and DFLers and Republican majority leaders have spent the past two days arguing over who was to blame.

The committee voted 9-6 against the plan, with five of the GOP members favoring the bill and four against it.

On Wednesday, Dayton again talked of a special legislative session for the stadium later this year. Last year, Dayton had wanted one before Thanksgiving. "I'd give it consideration," he said.

Back to Arden Hills?

On a day when no Vikings stadium proposal seemed to have traction, there was a new attempt to change the stadium location once again, this time back to Ramsey County's Arden Hills.

A group of DFL and Republican legislators unveiled what would be the fourth funding proposal for an Arden Hills stadium -- this time calling for a suburban Ramsey County food and beverage tax that would be subject to a November referendum.

Even that proposal appeared to be put together on the fly. One supporter, Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, said at a news conference that he favored adding a casino at the Arden Hills stadium site but was quickly reminded while he stood at the lectern that the latest stadium proposal didn't include a casino.

"We're still alive. We're still around," Ramsey County Board Chairman Rafael Ortega said of the Arden Hills site.

"It could be close, [but] we feel we could win a referendum in Ramsey County," he said.

The Vikings last year agreed with Ramsey County to build a $1.1 billion stadium on the site of a former ammunition plant but agreed to switch to Minneapolis when Dayton said the only way to get a public subsidy package passed at the Legislature this spring was to build in the state's largest city.

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said Wednesday that the team was trying to revive the Minneapolis stadium plan at the Capitol and wasn't interested now in Arden Hills.

Nor, he said, was the team interested in yet another plan that some legislators were referring to as "Plan B."

That proposal would authorize electronic bingo and pulltabs, along with sports-themed tip boards without addressing the stadium issue, and will go before the House Taxes Committee on Thursday night amid speculation the money could be put in a reserve fund to begin preliminary design work on a stadium.

Change in Kriesel's thinking

"Is it your understanding that your bill will become a Plan B?" Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, asked Kriesel, the plan's author, at a House panel hearing two weeks ago.

"If there's issues with the stadium bill, whatever those are, we still could pass tax relief for the charities and also a funding source for the stadium," Kriesel replied.

But even Kriesel backed away from that view Wednesday and said the legislation -- at least for now -- should not be seen as a way to pay for a Vikings stadium.

Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, a strong Vikings stadium supporter, took a dim view of the plan.

"I don't think it moves us closer to getting a stadium," he said Wednesday. "The pre-design and design work? That just puts it off for another Legislature" to consider.

mkaszuba@startribune.com • 651-925-5045 mcraig@startribune.com

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Arden Hills stadium proposal.