By Phil Krinkie
The Vikings aren't likely to get into the playoffs this year, and they aren't likely to get a new stadium next year. So, it's time they get realistic. Every year for at least the last 12 years, Lester Bagley, now the vice president of public affairs for the Minnesota Vikings, has come whining to state lawmakers about the need for a new Vikings stadium. And each year the answer is the same: "No!"
During this period of time, state legislators have approved a sales tax in Hennepin County to pay for a new Twins ballpark, "contributed" several hundred million dollars to pay for a new football stadium for the Gophers and, of course, provided state financing for a new hockey arena in St. Paul.
So why after all these years has the Legislature been so reluctant to heft most of the cost of a new Vikings stadium?
The most obvious reason is ... they don't need one. Even though the Metrodome is 28 years old, it isn't a bad place to watch a football game-it was designed as a football venue, after all. It is climate controlled. It has private suites (although suites without the luxury of their own private bathrooms). And yes, it even has a light-rail line to deliver fans to the front door.
On the down side, the Metrodome has hard plastic seats, narrow concourses, undersized bathroom capacity and no on-site parking. But, all in all, it's not a bad place to take in a Sunday afternoon gridiron contest. On the other hand, the good old Hubert Humphrey Metrodome was a lousy place to watch a baseball game. It was here in the Metrodome that many new terms were added to baseball's lexicon-like "the rug," "the baggy" and "lost in the lights." One pop fly was even lost in the inflatable roof. So after 10 years of debate and disagreements, a proposal from Hennepin County to pay for a new Twins stadium with a .015 cent sales tax was approved by the Legislature.
Before this happened, another stadium deal was approved by the folks in St. Paul-money for a new football stadium for the U of M Gophers. This deal was put together with a three-way partnership.
First, TCF Bank made a significant private contribution. Second, the University of Minnesota and its alumni made a large financial commitment. And third, the largest financing component came, of course, from Minnesota taxpayers. This deal came together because of a push from the University of Minnesota, a complete financing package and the desire to return college football to the campus.
Let's remember that the Legislature appropriated money for a study of a joint use football stadium for the Gophers and the Vikings, but the Vikings walked away from that deal.
Fast forward to December 2010 and the Vikings still don't have a site plan or a local government partner with just weeks before the start of the 2011 legislative session. Previously, the Vikings have walked away from a proposal to construct a facility in Anoka County and have thumbed their nose at proposals from the Metropolitan Sports Commission (operators of the Metrodome) for a major renovation of the current facility.
Now, with their lease expiring in 2011, the Vikings are once again giving only hints about a proposed site, with no detail about a financing package. Bagley stated recently the Vikings hope to have a plan to present within 30 to 60 days, which may be too late for many lawmakers. The Vikings have had 10 years to come up with a viable financing proposal for a new stadium, yet every time they come close to a workable solution, they walk away.
When Ziggy Wilf purchased the team in 2005, he knew the details of the lease at the Metrodome and he understood the finances of the team. With the clock running out, Mr. Wilf should seriously consider two very viable options for the team.
One, cut the deal with the Sports Commission to remodel the Dome. Don't be greedy, it won't cost a half a billion dollars to improve the place. The Dome can use some updating, but it doesn't need an extreme makeover. In a recent poll, 66 percent of respondents said the Vikings should stay in the Dome, and only 27 percent said they need a new stadium.
The other option is for Wilf to swallow his pride and cut a deal to play at TCF Stadium. The Gophers play only eight home games there, and it's a great football venue. I'm sure someone can figure out how to cover over the maroon with purple for Sunday afternoon Vikings games.
Whichever option the Vikings may consider, it's time for Wilf to lower his expectations. Minnesota is facing a $6 billion projected budget shortfall, so money for a billionaire playground will not be a top priority for lawmakers during the 2011 session. Everyone should lower their expectations for the upcoming session, and that includes Mr. Wilf and his Vikings.
Phil Krinkie, a former eight-term Republican state rep from LinoLakes who chaired the House Tax Committee for a while, is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently appointed Krinkie to the board of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.