Vikings' stadium debate moves to roof debate

The Vikings would prefer an open-air stadium and want to pay only one-third of that cost instead of increasing their investment for a fixed roof. It's not a new stance, but it could create problems with legislation.

It's hard to imagine why Zygi Wilf's man-love for an outdoor stadium is so pronounced. Perhaps it's nostalgia for the old days of outdoor football played in the worst of conditions. The problem with that logic? The Vikings have played indoors for 30 years and, as a result, have assembled a team with speed and agility in mind when it comes to the draft and signing free agents. Players with burst, ranging from John Randle to Robert Smith to Randy Moss to Jared Allen to Adrian Peterson to Percy Harvin have excelled by playing at least half of the games in climate-controlled conditions.

However, when it comes to the Vikings' quest for a new stadium, they prefer it to be an open-air version. At the Metrodome, the Vikings are tenants anywhere between 10-12 times a year (2010 excluded). That's it. Yet, prior to the Twins leaving, the Metrodome was used an average of 250 days a year. The Wilfs held domain over the building less than a dozen times a year, but there were hundreds of other events – all of which combined wouldn't be enough to keep the building operational in terms of revenue – that went on. Vikings fans have tried to shake off the memory of the 2010 season, but the Metrodome was a facility that paid off itself 20 times over simply by providing a public service – from allowing people to walk, run or roller blade around the concourse and serving as a home to hundreds of college and high school baseball and football games each year. It has become an enclosed public park that can be accessed in times of weather-related need.

Long before anyone in Minnesota knew who Zygi Wilf was, there was the infamous Halloween Blizzard. The Metrodome became the home for dozens of high school football games that, had the dome not been available, likely would have scrapped the football playoffs in the state. While a dump in terms of NFL stadiums, as a community facility, the Metrodome has been invaluable.

As the State Legislature begins the process of debating the merits of a new stadium, the Vikings continue to take the stance of being willing to pay one-third of the cost of an open-air stadium, which is estimated at a cost of about $700 million. A stadium with a fixed roof would carry an estimated cost of about $900 million, with a retractable roof stadium carry a price tag of nearly $1 billion. If the state wants to build another enclosed stadium, the Vikings don't want to increase their investment to put a roof on it.

From the time the Wilfs bought the Vikings, Zygi has wanted to be a power player in one of the most exclusive clubs in the world – the 32 NFL ownership groups. He's a member of that group, but could become a more important player if the Vikings have a state-of-the-art domed stadium rather than a state-of-disrepair stadium. The NFL took a Super Bowl chance on Minnesota nearly 20 years ago when it came to the Metrodome. A new domed stadium would open the chance (or perhaps even guarantee it) that the Super Bowl would return to Minnesota. A Super Bowl in an open-air Minnesota stadium? Not a chance.

The NFL isn't the only suitor that will go away permanently with an open air stadium. The Metrodome has regularly been used as a venue for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, including the Final Four. While the NHL has the curiosity factor of the occasional outdoor hockey game, it doesn't translate to basketball. Throw in stadium concerts for the biggest music acts in the world, conventions, and other events that have announcers with gravely voices yelling, "Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!" in TV ads would also go by the boards without a domed stadium.

While the Vikings don't necessarily need an indoor stadium to thrive, if the state is going to pay two-thirds (or more) of the tab to build a new stadium, it wants a facility that can be generate revenue year-round and, in some cases, bring in huge revenues – the kind of multi-million-dollar economic impact a Super Bowl or Final Four can generate.

The open-air stadium talk could become an unexpected road block in the construction of a stadium. Legislators became all too aware of the inequities in the Metrodome when the roof came crashing down under the weight of snow in December. Their willingness to build a new stadium got heightened with that unexpected event. It's possible the difference of opinion on an open-air vs. fixed dome stadium could become a deal-breaker. The two sides are as close as they've been in many years on getting a stadium deal done. It might all fall apart over an argument about a roof.


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    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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