Open-Air Stadium Idea Met With Resistance

New Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and football purists may disagree with the concept of a domed or retractable-roof stadium in Minnesota, but having a facility available for 12 months a year makes better economic sense, according to some close to the situation.

Vikings season ticket holders, who have been shielded from Minnesota's harsh winters on game days in the Metrodome the past 24 seasons, will have to bundle up one day if new owner Zygi Wilf gets his wish for an open-air stadium.

"I'm a strong believer of an open venue," Wilf said May 25 after his group was unanimously approved by NFL owners at meetings in Washington, D.C. "I think that it is a good advantage to have some of the other teams come up to our nice warm Minnesota winters so they can enjoy playing football up where it hurts, a la Green Bay."

The 55-year-old shopping mall developer from New Jersey projects himself as a football purist. He grew up as a New York Giants fan, still has season tickets and treasures his Lawrence Taylor jersey and a football autographed by the 1961 Giants.

Wilf's desire for an open-air stadium, however, already is meeting resistance from local officials who, for more than a year, have been promoting a $645 million domed stadium as part of a $1.6 billion retail commercial-housing development in Anoka County, which is just north of the Twin Cities.

Proponents of a domed stadium argue the merits of having a 12-month facility that can host indoor events such as concerts, Final Fours and possibly a Super Bowl. Wilf is only concerned about Vikings home games, and figures an open-air stadium will cost $150 million to $200 million less than a domed stadium.

Red McCombs sold the Vikings for $600 million, walking away with a windfall of about $480 million, including expansion fees, annual profits and $254 million in franchise appreciation. McCombs, however, wouldn't have sold if he had been successful in getting a new stadium.

Wilf believes he can succeed where McCombs failed. Wilf already has met with officials in Anoka County and the city of Blaine, and landowners in that area.

His experience as a developer will help him secure enough land to build a profitable complex. He also is willing to invest more of his own money in a new stadium than McCombs was, saying public funding is only "part of the formula."

The Vikings' lease with the Metrodome expires in 2011. For years, McCombs has threatened to move the Vikings if he didn't get a new stadium.

Wilf said he would never move the Vikings.

"No way," he said. "To me, this is not a matter of economics, this is a matter of passion. We will be in the Minneapolis area forever."

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