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The Minnesota Vikings this week are losing one of the weapons they've wielded to get action on a new stadium: the perception that it needs to get done now or else.
If the Vikings are going to relocate for the 2012 season, they must tell NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell by Wednesday. After that, the team is locked into playing in Minnesota for another year even though it no longer has a Metrodome lease.
"We'll see what happens," said Viking Vice President Lester Bagley.
But as the team rejected yet another Ramsey County stadium financing proposal Friday, interest in getting a stadium deal done this session has perceptibly waned at the State Capitol.
Most legislators, juggling other priorities and facing reelection battles in new districts this fall, aren't clamoring for a stadium bill to be introduced. Absent a funding plan and a site, the consensus seems to be that there is little hope for action soon and that each day the window closes a little more.
"The Vikings have tried to create the impression, through somewhat subtle threats, that they could move," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. "But ... I think there's a growing realization that the Vikings have nowhere to go."
Even Gov. Mark Dayton, the stadium's single biggest booster at the Capitol, is conceding it may have to wait.
"If we don't get it this year, and I hope and believe we will, we'll get it next legislative session," he said last week.
Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, the lead DFLer on the House Taxes Committee, blamed stadium advocates for failing to unite. "They can't get their act together, still don't know even the city," she said.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House author of stadium legislation, acknowledged that some legislators may feel that with the team likely committed to Minnesota in 2012, there was no urgency to approve a stadium plan this spring. He disagreed.
"We need to make a decision sooner rather than later," he said. "But we cannot make a decision until we know more specifically what Ramsey County ... [and] what the city of Minneapolis [have] in mind."
'Waiting will make it harder'
They could find out as soon as this week, said Ted Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission and Dayton's chief stadium negotiator.
Mondale said a plan looked "very feasible" to build a stadium on the back side of the Dome, allowing the Vikings to play in the old stadium while most of the new one is being built. He said he expected the plan will be released with numbers in short order.
Mondale has maintained all along that the Vikings will play the 2012 season in Minnesota, since essentially they have nowhere else to go.
"The relocation process is messy and expensive, and as part of that they would need to have an agreement with another facility on where they would play," he said.
NFL Commissioner Goodell himself helped quell concerns that the Vikings may take off for Los Angeles. He told TV sports host Bob Costas that the league probably would add two new franchises if it entered the L.A. market, rather than move any existing teams there.
Mondale also believes the Vikings' former Dome lease was automatically extended a year when the team didn't play the full 2010 home season there due to storm damage. The Vikings disagree.
Even so, Mondale said legislators should approve a stadium deal now rather than wait. A deal this year would put to work thousands of idled construction laborers and keep stadium costs down, he said. Each year's delay drives up the cost of materials and labor by $30 million to $50 million.
"Waiting will make it harder rather than easier to do," he said. "There's always an election around the corner."
Asked about prospects for a bill, Bagley said that "hopefully in the next week or so we'll bring it forward." Then he backed off a bit: "In the near future," he said.
New Dome plan could work
Some promising developments took place last week for a new stadium in Minneapolis. A business group instrumental in building the Minnesota Twins' ballpark a few years ago, Home Field Advantage, was revived to rally support for a downtown Vikings stadium. Labor leaders said they had reached a workforce agreement with the team should the stadium go to Minneapolis.
Bagley said that the Vikings are working with Minneapolis and Mondale on the site behind the Dome. But that plan, he said, is "contingent on Minneapolis support and that's not assured." So far, seven of the city's 13 City Council members say they are opposed.
Under the plan Mondale said will be released this week, two-thirds of the new stadium would be built along the Dome's east side and over 11th Avenue S.
That would enable the Vikings to play at the Dome for all but a few games in 2016, when the old stadium would be knocked down and the new stadium finished on the Dome's footprint. The new structure could be ready by Thanksgiving 2016, Mondale said.
Taking down the old stadium would open up space for an "incredible" plaza facing downtown that could host events and concerts for 30,000 people, he said. It also would hold a 2,200-space parking ramp that the team wants adjacent to the stadium.
Mondale said such a stadium can be built without infringing on the 511 Building telecommunications center and parking lot owned by entrepreneur Basant Kharbanda, who doesn't want to sell. Moving a nearby Xcel Energy substation may be less of a problem than previously thought, he said, and traffic issues also seem manageable.
Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat, who spearheaded the county's efforts to build Target Field, said his preferred site continues to be the Farmers Market location near the ballpark, with access to parking ramps, transit lines and the entertainment district.
But several issues are keeping Opat on the sidelines this time around, he said: uncertain support among County Board members, unsubstantiated and fuzzy revenue figures, and questions about legislators' political will to raise and spend the necessary funding.
Problems with funding sources were underscored again Friday when Ramsey County proposed a new user-fee based plan for an Arden Hills stadium. Bagley said it didn't work because it would take parking revenue the team wants and impose a ticket surcharge it doesn't.
Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, a former legislator, said it's never too late. Even after the Legislature adjourns, the governor could call them back into session, he said. Still, he was frustrated by the lack of progress.
"If they don't want to do it, why don't they say so and just set it aside and face the wrath of the people," Bennett said.