The University of Minnesota's president said Friday that alcohol sales at the U's TCF Bank stadium would probably be allowed should the Minnesota Vikings play there temporarily. The ban on sales at college games would be unchanged.
President Eric Kaler said that the university was considering the issue, with the final decision on enacting separate alcohol policies for pro and college games likely headed to the Board of Regents. The Vikings and the university are in stepped-up negotiations to have the team play at TCF for three years should a new Vikings stadium be built at the site of the Metrodome, the team's home for the past 30 years.
"If we're going to let the Vikings use TCF Stadium, that's going to have to be part of the deal," said Kaler, who said the U is now talking to the team regularly. Kaler, who became president in July, said the regents would have to consider approving alcohol sales "as part of the overall agreement to let the Vikings use" TCF Bank Stadium.
Meanwhile, talk emerged Friday of another possible site option that would make discussions about moving to TCF moot. Vikings vice president of stadium development Lester Bagley and Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission chairman Ted Mondale said they've been looking at acreage just southeast of the Dome, between 11th Avenue S. and Interstate 35W. Bagley said that the location would be ideal but that buildings on the site might be difficult to relocate.
"We've not yet seen a viable plan that would accomplish that," he said.
The alcohol issue is but one more complication as Gov. Mark Dayton, legislators, Minneapolis officials and the team race to stitch together a Metrodome stadium plan in time to be considered this year by the Legislature. The session began Tuesday amid indications lawmakers want to adjourn relatively quickly.
Over the past week, Dayton accelerated the stadium debate by declaring that only a new $918 million stadium at the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis had a chance of winning legislative approval this year. The Vikings, whose preference has been for a stadium in Ramsey County's Arden Hills but who have renewed their interest in the Metrodome site, said there would be nearly $50 million in lost revenue and added costs for them to play for three years at the U's smaller stadium.
Clyde Allen Jr., one of the university's 12 regents, said he did not think it would be hypocritical for the school to ban the sale of alcohol at college games but allow it -- often just a day later -- for the Vikings. "I do think there's a difference between the college games and the pro games," Allen said. "I think we have different facts ... and different situations to deal with."
The university currently bans alcohol sales at all on-campus athletic facilities. But an influential alumni group, largely with the school's backing, has pushed for legislative approval for alcohol sales in the premium seats at TCF Stadium during college games.
Legislators have opposed the plan, and at one point were joined by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty in arguing that the school should sell alcohol throughout the stadium or not at all. Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, called the premium seating-only alcohol plan "rather elitist."
Bagley stopped short Friday of saying the team would insist on alcohol sales at the stadium, and a National Football League spokesman said the decision would be left to the team.
The Vikings played a game at TCF in December 2010 after the Metrodome roof collapsed during a snowstorm. No alcohol sales were allowed then.
"Beer sales are pretty much a standard in all NFL stadiums. It's a revenue stream. It's important for the fan experience," Bagley said. While he acknowledged that the Vikings did play the one game at the U without alcohol sales, he said that "it was not a make-or-break issue at that time."
"If we're talking about three seasons at TCF Bank Stadium, this is an issue that's going to have to be sorted through," he said.
Mondale said he was not directly involved in the negotiations between the school and the team, but added that "I would think that's something they're going to insist on. [The Vikings] make a lot of money on beer, right?"
James Erickson, a lobbyist for Friends of Gopher Sports, an alumni group pushing for alcohol sales in premium seats for college football games, said he was not sure how the Vikings situation would affect the group's efforts. "I don't know if it would make it easier or harder," he said.
Venora Hung, another U regent, said she was unsure what the school might do. "I'm sure people are interested" in what might happen, she said. "It's a serious thing, so we would have to think about it very conscientiously."
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673