More than an hour after the Metrodome roof had been fully inflated and workers were well into cleaning up 4-by-8-foot panels of plywood, a worker walked to the middle of the field looked skyward, raised his arms and yelled, "Thank you!"
Lester Bagley and the Wilf ownership group of the Vikings only hope they are able to do the same thing in a new stadium in three or four years.
The inflation of the repaired Metrodome roof on Wednesday morning was the signaling of the end of the three-month-long repair project, but it didn't end the Vikings' quest for a new stadium.
"We're happy this is behind us. This is an important day to get it up, get our home-field advantage back and get Viking football back," Bagley, the team's vice president of stadium development/public affairs, said while standing in the football press box of the Metrodome. "But we're still in pursuit of the long-term solution. We're working on that. It doesn't change. We need a long-term solution and we're making progress toward that goal."
The Vikings, under two different ownership groups, have been lobbying for a new stadium for more than a decade. The Dec. 12 collapse of the Metrodome roof after a 17-inch snowstorm only helped advance their cause. Although business insurance covered most of their losses, the team lost millions of dollars in revenue because they were forced away from the Metrodome for their final two "home" games, contests that were moved to Detroit's Ford Field and TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus, a smaller venue that required the refunding of several thousand tickets.
In the seven months since the Dome's collapse, the building's overseeing body, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, has a new chairman, Ted Mondale, who was appointed by new a governor, Democrat Mark Dayton, and the 2011 legislative regular session has come and gone without a stadium bill being voted on. Instead, the state's $5 billion deficit remains to be solved in a special session that still hasn't been called even as the state's government shutdown approaches two weeks old.
"We're in communication with the key authors, we're in communication with the top business leaders and labor leaders that are organized to try and push [a new stadium]," said Ted Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. "We have a number of issues that we're continuing to push through, but we're not stalled. We continue to make progress.
"We're sort of waiting to see what is the framework for closing the revenue gap. Once we can see that, I think we can better fashion a response within that framework to move ahead. But the governor is committed to getting this done. We're going to get it done right and we're going to get it done that's in the best interest of the people of Minnesota. I still feel confident that something can happen."
Bagley said most of the stadium talk is "quiet" with the state government in shutdown mode, but the team continues to talk with the authors of the stadium bill and the governor's offense.
"But they obviously have the budget matters, which are paramount, so we're kind of stepping back and letting them do their work on the budget," Bagley said. "As that comes together, we're confident we'll be ready and we'll be in position to have a good discussion about a stadium solution."
Numerous possibilities have been bandied about on how to pay for a new stadium. The Vikings have committed at least $407 million to the project, which is estimated at just over a billion dollars. Local government partner Ramsey County committed $350 million to the project back in May when it unveiled the plans for an Arden Hills stadium, and Dayton has insisted that the state won't exceed its $300 million commitment.
"We're going to need to raise revenue to do this. There really hasn't been a lot of synergy on how that would happen at this point," said Mondale, who was appointed by Dayton in January. "We're waiting, but we're working. We're being creative. We're being solution-focused. I think there's still a pretty good shot that we'll have a good proposal ready for the elected leaders to take a look at, and hopefully in the right timeframe.
"I know the governor wants to get this done. He wants to get it done this year. Obviously we're in a little bit of a delay mode right now given the other issues of the state."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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