An eight-city "listening tour" aimed at drumming up statewide support for a new $954 million football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings ended Wednesday night at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
The presentation, which included a question-and-answer session, a survey and a multimedia show, was put on by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome.
A crowd of about 125 spent more than two hours Wednesday listening to why a new facility needs to be built now and how waiting will drive up the costs and increase the risk of losing the Vikings.
"We need to be talking about this kind of issue," said commission Chairman Roy Terwilliger. "This kind of issue sneaks up on you. Time becomes the enemy."
Since early November, the commission has traveled to Rochester and Virginia, Minn., and places in between in hopes of getting people around the state to talk about how to replace what the group considers an antiquated Metrodome, home to the Minnesota's National Football League team for more than 25 years.
"Where do we go from here?" asked Commissioner Loanne Thrane as she opened the meeting. "That's what we have [been asking] out and about the state."
Commissioners said it has become clear that people outside the metro area want an enclosed stadium so that events -- especially high school events -- can be held year-round.
"The more you travel around Minnesota, the more you see the need for an enclosed facility," said Bill Lester, executive director of the facilities commission.
The sense of urgency has increased because two main tenants at the Metrodome -- the Minnesota Twins and the University of Minnesota football team -- are moving out in the next two years as their new stadiums are built.
The Vikings soon will be the only tenant left, and commissioners worry that if the team does not get a new stadium, it will leave, although the Vikings have not made such a claim.The Vikings face an uphill battle at the Legislature this year in trying to get public funding for a new stadium.
Not only is the state's economy in a downturn, but legislators also are under pressure to deal with what are perceived as more pressing issues -- such as rebuilding the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge and other public works.
But commissioners said they need to press forward because time is running out to build a new stadium by 2012, when the Vikings' Metrodome lease expires.
"There are tremendous needs that are going before the Legislature," Terwilliger said. "We are not suggesting that this has a higher need than the other issues."
"But," Terwilliger added, "we need to move the discussion forward about whether we want to keep pro football in Minnesota. Maybe there's never a good time to talk about financing a stadium, but it's a conversation we feel duty-bound to start."
Terwilliger's comment drew a mixed reaction from the crowd.
Most of the crowd seemed in favor of the stadium, pointing out that jobs would be created for labor unions, an area that needs development would be redeveloped and the Vikings would stay in town.
But opponents said the metro area and the state should focus on infrastructure, education, health care and affordable housing instead of sports facilities.
"I live in Minneapolis and it needs a lot of work," said Gayle Bonneville, who was among those opposed to building the Vikings a new stadium. "This is not a priority."
Herón Márquez Estrada • 612-673-4280