Vikings Official Encouraged By Stadium Progress

While the Vikings have taken a low-key approach to seeking a new stadium, Anoka County officials are moving forward with their stadium efforts for the team. Vikings consultant Lester Bagley addressed several key factors, including a potential change in ownership, financing and an impending election year — all potential hurdles for a stadium project to clear.

Legislative leaders haven't yet introduced the bill for Vikings stadium funding, but Lester Bagley, the Vikings' public affairs consultant, said "it's in the hopper."

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was in the Twin Cities earlier this week to learn more about a Vikings stadium plan being proposed by Anoka County officials in the city of Blaine. Tagliabue said the NFL supports Anoka's proposal, which currently includes a $650 million stadium and a $1.6 billion overall complex of stadium, businesses and homes.

Bagley for years has been working on gaining support for a stadium bill that would include some public financing. While the Vikings have been encouraged at other junctures in the past five years, Bagley thinks they may be further along than ever.

"Yeah, I think we're reaching critical mass at the State of Minnesota on a Vikings stadium solution. We've got a long way to go, but these things take time and it's coming together. This is a great group of people out here with the proposal from Anoka County, and the commissioner has come too. We appreciate that. It's all moving in the right direction. We have uncertainty about ownership. Once that gets resolved, I think we'll pick up some real momentum."

Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler's purchase agreement to buy the Vikings from Red McCombs for $625 million has been hanging in the balance since the announcement of that agreement on Feb. 14. Tagliabue said at a Wednesday press conference that he doesn't have a strong feeling either way whether Fowler will be approved by NFL owners or not at a May 24-25 meeting.

But whether it is Fowler who ends up with the team or Timberwolves owner and long-time pursuer of the Vikings Glen Taylor, or anybody else, Bagley said he believes the team will have a new owner sometime in the near future.

"I think the ownership change is going to occur. I think the McCombses (Red and wife Charline) have decided to sell the team, and I think that will be received positively at the legislature and I think publicly," Bagley said. "Ideally, it would be great to have a local owner, but I think if somebody outside of the state buys the team there is still opportunities. And if they make a commitment like buying property in Blaine, for example, that's a pretty big commitment to the state of Minnesota and that they want to keep the team here. So I don't think that that's that big of an issue, but all things being equal I'm sure we'd prefer a local owner. But I think the big thing is an ownership change will define a clear path and give us some momentum to get going."

Besides the purchase price of the team, a new owner would be expected to have deep financial reserves to commit to a potential new stadium project — as much as $250 million may be needed by the time a bill would be introduced and passed, with next year at about this time being the earliest realistic timeframe.

"Any new owner is going to have to make a huge commitment, financial and otherwise, to the market … and to this stadium solution. That's a given, that whoever buys the team is going to have to contribute significant energy, creativity and financing to get it done," Bagley said.

"I think all the bills that have been in the legislature have defined a one-third or a minimum of a 33 percent contribution (from the Vikings). So then you get to how much does the facility cost and the Anoka County proposal, they have a $650 million price tag, and that's a little steep. But if you have to pay a third of that versus a third of a $500 milllion stadium, that's a little different question. The point is, until we know what the facility is going to look like and what it's going to be — how many suites, seats, club seats, all those things, infrastructure and all those basic cost drivers and who pays what shares — those are deal points that have to be worked out between the ownership, the local government or community such as Anoka and the state. I think it's a three-way partnership.

"If there's a league requirement, I'm not sure. But clearly there's a need on top of sale price of the team to not only have the reserves to operate the club but also finance and invest in a stadium."

The largest hurdle to overcome has been the state government's unwillingness to rapidly advance stadium proposals during a legislative session. But there is another in-house league matter that must be resolved as well.

The NFL's G-3 funding, whereby the league funds a portion of a new stadium, is expected to run out after funding stadium projects in Dallas, Indianapolis and New York. However, Tagliabue and Bagley both said they expected some form of G-3 funding to be extended to any new Vikings stadium approved in the near future.

"(The NFL) is working on some balance where everybody can support (league funding) and understand it — meaning the owners, because we need 24 owners to extend the G-3 projects," Bagley said "It might not be exactly the same, but I think they're trying to find the right structure."

While most involved with the current proposal in Anoka County dub the chances of a legislative bill being pass this year as remote, next year maybe equally as difficult. The team's ownership situation may be settled by then, but the political environment will become more unsettled. Next year is a big election year, from local officials to the governor's office, and current Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been a strident backer of funding stadiums for Minnesota teams.

Bagley said there have been many different financial and political climates under which previous stadium efforts have tried and failed and it's time to stop the excuses.

"We've had budget deficit, budget surplus, election year, non-election year. Frankly, there is an excuse for everything not to take action," Bagley told Viking Update. "The reality of it is, next election year not only is the governor and the entire legislature (up for re-election), but the U.S. Senate. It's a big election year because a lot of offices are going to be up. There's going to be a lot of activity.

"Legislators and elected officials sometimes act a little less courageously in those environments. It's a valid issue, but, like I said, at some point we've got to stop finding excuses and start finding solutions."

Viking Update Top Stories