Hartman: Fans seal the deal for Vikings stadium

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2012 - 11:19 PM

Legislators heard from many supporters of the team. Their passion and visits to the Capitol helped drive the bill.

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In front of the State Capitol, superfan Larry Spooner hailed Vikings owner Zygi Wilf as he arrived for the annnouncement of the passing of a Vikings stadium bill.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said as long as he and his family have owned the team, they were convinced that if they were patient, the day would come when the state of Minnesota would vote for a big-time stadium with the possibility of a retractable roof that could bring many events to the city.

"From day one, our passion for football and seeing the passion of the Vikings fans as we embarked on this ownership made us committed to the fact that our fans here deserve a new stadium where they could be proud of enjoying Minnesota Vikings football," Wilf said.

While denying that they had any intention of moving the team, the Wilfs had made it clear in the past that without a new stadium, they couldn't compete financially in the NFL.

And while the Wilfs never threatened to move, I am positive that without a new stadium, they would have sold the team to another owner who would have moved the team within three years.

This year, the Wilf family went all out, spending a lot of money on lobbying, advertising and involving the fans, who did a great job in letting members of the Legislature know how important the Vikings were to the community and state. If it hadn't happened this year, I doubt whether they would have tried again.

They gave their key stadium man, Lester Bagley, and his great assistant, Jeff Anderson, who helped get all the fans to the Capitol, all the tools they needed to be successful.

And let's face the fact that this franchise now has a new stadium with a 30-year lease, and overnight the franchise is probably worth $1 billion-plus rather than the $796 million value Forbes Magazine put on the franchise in 2011. The Vikings were the 28th-ranked NFL franchise in overall value at the time, and with this new stadium, they will move up.

"We're very, very proud to be at this moment through all the hard work of everybody on the hill and the ownership group and the city of Minneapolis, we got this done," Wilf said. "We have a lot of hard work ahead of us. We have to focus right now on building a great facility and we expect great things moving forward. Hopefully, we have many great seasons ahead of us now."

And as for the future on the field of the Vikings, who were 3-13 last year, Wilf promised a much better record this season.

"Absolutely," he said. "I feel like with every year we're going to be getting better and I look forward to great things, including the Vikings going to a Super Bowl and hopefully bringing [one] here."

Vikings fans turn out

For years, I watched the Twins and Vikings campaign to get new stadiums, and both failed because the constituencies of legislators were against using public money to build these stadiums.

There was plenty of negativity before the bill was passed to build Target Field, even though the state treasury wasn't being robbed of a dime.

But when it came to the Vikings stadium this year, you saw the biggest turnout of fans for a stadium legislative hearing in history. Vikings fans took over and put the pressure on members of the Legislature -- one said his calls were 10-to-1 for the stadium. The appearance of so many Vikings fans at the Capitol had a big influence.

Rybak comes through

I've never been a big fan of R.T. Rybak, a former co-worker of mine at this newspaper, as the Minneapolis mayor.

But I've certainly changed my mind about his ability to operate. About a year ago, Rybak, Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson and I had lunch. I had my doubts when Rybak and Johnson promised the council vote on any good plan to be a part of building a new Vikings stadium.

But they came through with flying colors, cutting the property taxes of Minneapolis residents as a part of their stadium plans, and finding money to remodel Target Center by using taxes now paying off the Convention Center debt when they expire.

"This is a great deal," Rybak said. "It's going to build a Vikings stadium, but it also shows what happens when a City Council leads. It's very clear that the City Council, [by] making its voice known, has had a huge role. I think this is going to have a remarkable impact on the city. To have a billion dollar new stadium on one end and then a $150 million renovation of Target Center on the other end and then putting at least 7,500 people to work right away, it's a huge step forward for the city, not only on arenas but on a lot of levels."

Target Center has encountered problems competing with St. Paul's newer and more modern Xcel Energy Center. But now with $150 million available to remodel Target Center, that arena will be able to compete, even though they have done much better since Tim Leiweke and the Anschutz Entertainment Group took over management of the facility.

"Target Center is going to be a key part of this [stadium bill]," Rybak said. "We're going to be doing what we should have been doing with buildings for a long time, which is renovate them before they get obsolete and solidify the franchises of the Timberwolves andthe Lynx.

"Because of this investment we're going to have dramatically more hospitality taxes in this city, which could turn around and help fund other things, which is a great deal."

For citizens who didn't understand the positive parts of the stadium bill, Rybak pointed them out.

"The more people have heard about it, the more they understand that it's a great strategy that puts no property tax dollars at risk, in fact lowers property taxes, and makes a billion-dollar investment."

Target Center's needs

Timberwolves senior vice president and chief marketing officer Ted Johnson compared Target Center's condition to the Metrodome.

"It's a 23-year-old facility," he said. "It's antiquated, much like the [Metrodome]. The Timberwolves and the Lynx need those revenue streams as well, and the city needs a building that's competitive that can get concerts and shows for the Upper Midwest. This is going to make us a competitive arena again."

Johnson added: "Absolutely, the $150 million is going to renovate not only the exterior but introduce fan amenities that fans from around the Twin Cities have come to expect over the years with the building of TCF Bank Stadium and Xcel and, of course, Target Field. For the first time, our fans are going to experience a lot of those same fan amenities that they've come to expect."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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