It seems every week is a new hurdle for the Vikings' to clear when it comes to the stadium issue. Last week, that hurdle was legislators suggesting that a referendum should be held in Ramsey County to decide on the half-percent sales tax increase.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (Rep.-Buffalo) and House Speaker Kurt Zellers (Rep-Maple Grove) were most out front and public on the topic.
"Some of their comments on the referendum, disappointing. Our lease is up and this building and the Metrodome is not a viable NFL facility," said Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development. "We've done and the Wilfs have done and the Vikings have done everything required. A great site, a local partner, local contributions. We've done everything required and all we've asked is that we be held to the same standard as the Twins in terms of the referendum question. That's where we are on it. I think there's a lot of consternation on some of the comments that have been made, but we've got to charge forward."
The Vikings and Ramsey County reached an agreement in May on a partnership in which the Vikings would contribute $407 million and Ramsey County would provide $350 million toward a $1.1 billion stadium project through a county-wide sales tax increase. The rest of the money would come from the state.
In addition to the $407 million contribution, the Vikings would cover cost overruns on the project and $20 million a year in operational costs and capital improvements.
"That contribution is the third-largest private contribution in NFL history after the Cowboys and after the Jets-Giants. It's the third-largest private contribution for a stadium in league history," Bagley said. "The point is the Wilfs have done everything required, everything asked. They've stepped up. They've been good owners. They've put real money, significant dollars, on the table in a small market. We're close to getting this done."
But a referendum could kill the deal. Citizens rarely vote to raise taxes on themselves. The Vikings contend that they should be held to the same standards that were at play when the Minnesota Twins received funding for Target Field, a highly acclaimed ballpark that opened in 2010.
Initial reports suggested that Gov. Mark Dayton was in favor of a referendum, but Dayton clarified those remarks to say that he neither supported nor opposed a referendum.
"He's not advocating for a referendum. We believe he's an ally in this project," Bagley said. "We're driving to get this thing done. We're trying to put a package together and get in front of the legislature, potentially for this fall. He's willing. He's told Mr. Wilf that he's willing to call a special session, but it's got to be collaborative. We've got to get the term sheet and the deal points agreed to. We're not very far off. In terms of the special session, I think the governor's there. Our challenge is with the broader leadership, the state legislature."
The Vikings' first preference for a stadium has been an open-air facility as long as the Wilfs have been owners, but Dayton says if there is state money contributing to the project, a roof is required so it can be used as a year-round community asset. The original Ramsey County project called for a retractable roof, but as all sides look to whittle down costs a fixed roof is being considered. That would save about $30 million over a retractable roof.
"Our preference would be to have a retractable roof," Bagley said. "If it's going to have a roof, we'd like to have it open in the fall elements for our games for sure, but also we'd like to have the ability to bring in a Major League Soccer team, an MLS franchise, and there are no MLS teams that play indoors. They all play outdoors, and in Vancouver's case they play in a retractable-roof stadium."
Some have contended that Metrodome should continue to be used with a new roof and new turf. If the Arden Hills site is approved for a new stadium, the Metrodome would likely be used for another three years during construction of a new stadium, but Bagley said the Metrodome has too many revenue and fan-amenity shortcomings.
"The roof collapse underscored that this building is not a long-term solution. It served 30 years. It's 1970s technology," he said. "It's a very challenging game-day experience for our fans. We're at the bottom of the league in every revenue category. It doesn't work to keep the team competitive and it doesn't work for our fans. The fans deserve a game-day experience they can get at the Twins ballpark or the Xcel Energy Center or virtually every other NFL stadium."
It remains uncertain if Dayton will call a special session before the end of the year if all the details are worked out, but a referendum in Ramsey County could be a deal-killer. For now, however, Ramsey County remains the Vikings' the sole focus for a new home, Bagley said, deflecting the constant background talk of interest from Los Angeles.
"We've still got a season left in our lease and we've got a governor that is trying to get this thing in position. We believe that," Bagley said. "We've got owners who are committed to the Arden Hills site as a Plan A. We really don't have a Plan B at this point. But our lease is up. Our view is this needs to get resolved before the lease expires."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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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