Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said Thursday the team would spend significantly less than the $400 million it has pledged to help a build a new stadium if it's not located on the team's preferred site in suburban St. Paul.
The Vikings have committed the money to support a $1.1 billion stadium plan at a sprawling site in Arden Hills, which the team favors for its long-term development potential. Some political and business leaders favor keeping the team in downtown Minneapolis, where a handful of more compact sites are an option.
"We're committed to the Arden Hills site for what it brings to the fans, but we're also committed to investing over $400 million in specific to the Arden Hills site for the experiences that everyone can get from Arden Hills," Wilf told The Associated Press in an interview. "Any other location besides Arden Hills wouldn't justify near that level of commitment."
The 430-acre site at a former munitions plant offers ample room for on-site parking and tailgating, amenities for which Vikings fans have clamored and would generate revenue for the team.
The Vikings have campaigned for a new stadium to replace the drab and outdated Metrodome for about a decade. Their lease at the dome ends after this season, and many fans are worried the most popular team in the state could be lost to football-hungry Los Angeles unless a deal is reached soon.
The Vikings partnered this year with officials in suburban Ramsey County to pitch the $1.1 billion development, with the local government offering $350 million from a sales-tax increase to pay its share of the bill. State lawmakers recently rejected the idea of using a local tax hike as a revenue source, leading to speculation they are trying to funnel the stadium to one of at least three sites downtown.
"Avoiding the issue, as seems to have been taking place in the last couple of weeks, does not work," Wilf said. "It only gets more difficult and more expensive. We're very encouraged by leadership of both houses and the governor in trying to bring a stadium solution front and center."
Wilf said he has had only minimal contact with Minneapolis officials about potential sites downtown and didn't entirely rule out the possibility. But he stressed Arden Hills remains the preferred destination because any downtown site can't match its potential for surrounding development.
Messages left with Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Wilf and Dayton have sought a special session of the legislature to address the issue, something Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers said last week he did not support. Dayton has expressed frustration with state lawmakers' inaction several times during the past few weeks, but Wilf said he remained optimistic the team will reach a deal.
"I think everyone realizes this has to get done," Wilf said. "But it's not a matter of when, but how we do it. I think as we work toward getting this resolved, everyone will focus on how it gets done and not if. That's what we're focusing on. That's what the leadership is focusing on."
Stadium opponents have decried the idea of giving hundreds of millions of public dollars to a billionaire for what they dub "Zygi World," a reference to the anticipated hotels, stores and other developments surrounding a new stadium. Wilf said Thursday that all $400 million of the team's commitment would go directly toward building the 260-acre stadium project, not to surrounding development.
Wilf said he plans to purchase and develop the remaining 170 acres with private money.
One of the main reasons for a lack of urgency from some state leaders appears to be the idea that Minnesota is in no danger of losing the franchise. The New Jersey real estate mogul has long said he has no plans to sell or move the team, and he said Thursday that hasn't changed.
The team has acknowledged being contacted by two groups looking to lure a franchise to Los Angeles, but Wilf said they haven't spoken for months.
"From the NFL's standpoint and the league's standpoint, they do intend to have one, if not two teams, in that market in the future," Wilf said. "But I want to let everyone know that we are entirely focused on getting the job done here and I'm not paying much attention to what happens outside this issue here."
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