With the 2011 season officially over, the Vikings move forward as the only NFL team without a stadium lease. That is a tricky proposition. While January will mean nothing to Vikings fans in terms of playoffs (aside from Packers haters that so desperately want them to lose), January 2012 may be the most important month in Vikings history.
There is optimism that a stadium deal is on the horizon, but where a stadium will be built is an element that can't be overlooked.
Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of stadium development, has introduced many thousands of Vikings fans to a term some may not have heard prior to the stadium discussion – vetted.
Vetted, in its simplest terms, is the process of evaluating and examining a situation. In stadium terms, the vetting of the Arden Hills site – the site of choice for the Vikings – has been done. Roadblocks, hurdles and potential deal-breakers have already been thrown out concerning the site. None of them have proved to be too much to overcome.
As we have learned in recent months, as many as three potential sites in Minneapolis have been discussed. The Vikings have all but rejected the idea of razing the Metrodome and building a new stadium in that narrow footprint. The Basilica site has been garnering a lot of momentum by desperate Minneapolis business leaders as the most viable option to keep the Vikings in the Metrodome short-term while still keep the team in the city limits long-term. However, none of these proposals have been, as they say, vetted.
The Wilf family owns an NFL team. However, they didn't make their fortune as football owners. They made their money as land developers – taking land that was barren and turning it into a community of buildings, businesses and housing developments. In short, they take property that, despite urban sprawl, has been abandoned or unused and turn it into a viable destination. None of the three potential Minneapolis sites will provide much in the way of "new business." Will the existing businesses surrounding any of the three potential Minneapolis sites increase their profit potential? No question about that. Will that benefit the residents of Minnesota as whole? Not so much.
As the State Legislature convenes to determine the fate of a stadium issue after dragging its heels for more than a decade, they do so having to ask themselves one fundamental question: Do we do what is in the best interest of existing commerce or do we create new commerce?
Anyone who has driven by the abandoned U.S. Army munitions plant in Arden Hills likely wouldn't recognize it as being anything other than an abandoned tract of land along I-35. For the last 20-plus years, plenty has changed around it, but that expansive parcel has remained untouched. Putting a stadium in Minneapolis would entail dropping a stadium into a pre-existing footprint that would minimize the growth potential around the stadium. It would effectively be putting a missing puzzle piece into a 1,000-piece picture. In Arden Hills, not only would a stadium be constructed that wouldn't be size-limited, but it would create economic activity in the miles around the stadium.
The Vikings only play 10 games a year at the Metrodome, but the economic impact they provide (and that a domed stadium provides throughout the year) has made the Metrodome one of the most financially successful stadiums in the history of stadiums. Why? Not because the Metrodome is a must-see facility. It's a dump that was built on the cheap. But, at the time it was constructed, it was built on an unused tract of land that could help revitalize an area of Minneapolis that was going largely unused. Given the nominal price tag, it was wildly successful.
Nobody can argue that the X-cel Energy Center has revitalized the West Seventh area of St. Paul, even though the Wild play just 41 times a year at their building. Concerts take place there. Events take place there. The surrounding businesses thrive because, when you bring people into the area, they're going to spend money – whether it's to get a hotel room for a night, have dinner at a restaurant or to throw back a few beers at a local bar. The economic impact has changed the landscape of that portion of St. Paul, creating jobs and keeping the business community in the black at a time when the economic climate has been pretty brutal.
Putting a stadium in Minneapolis will appease the power elite of the city, creating a stadium row if the Basilica site is chosen. Putting a stadium in Arden Hills will create an ongoing revenue stream in an area that literally has seen a few tumbleweeds roll through.
The Vikings team won't have any say in what happens in the NFL in January, but it may be the most important month in the history of the franchise, even without games being played in Minnesota. At some point, they will need to get enough votes at the House of Representatives and the Senate to get a stadium funding package approved. How that gets done is going to be accomplished behind closed doors, not with the typical "harrumphing" of long-time legislators. It would seem that Arden Hills is the best option. Clearly it's the option of choice for the Vikings. If the State Legislature is sincere in its belief that the stadium should be Minnesota's stadium, not the Vikings, Arden Hills should be the only choice. Want to put unemployed Minnesotans back to work? You will find a lot more permanent, ongoing jobs by going north to the "new frontier" of property development than building a cookie cutter stadium within an already-established footprint.
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.
Holler: New economic impact should be factor
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