Vikings fans got some promising news Thursday as the Minnesota State Senate approved a $2 million study on how to replace the Metrodome – a plan that had stadium opponents, including Governor Tim Pawlenty, denouncing the move.
Pawlenty, who has been a critic of publicly funding a stadium, blasted the move because Minnesota is currently in a massive budget shortfall that will require significant state aid to counties and cities to be reduced in order to balance the budget – a legislative requirement in the state.
Without much fanfare, the Senate Taxes Committee approved the study, which it wants completed by next January in time for the 2009 legislative session. The study won't be funded by new tax money, but opponents were quick to say that the proposed $1 billion stadium can't and won't be financed with public dollars.
During a question and answer session with the media Thursday, Pawlenty was very critical of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns the 26-year-old Metrodome, saying, "I'm disappointed that they would take $2 million and spend it on a study of financing options for a Vikings stadium. It's been studied 15 times. It's not rocket science."
The problem for the Vikings and their fans comes in the fact that the stadium issue has been ignored for years and the state leaders could always point to a lease that the team has with the Metrodome that runs through 2011. For years that seemed very far off. Stadium experts now say that, even if a new stadium had been approved during this legislative session, it wouldn't be ready for occupancy before 2011. With no plans to do anything this year concerning the stadium issue, that gets pushed back even farther.
Proponents of the study say that 2009 is going to be the last and likely the most powerful push to get a new stadium done. Zygi Wilf has pledged $/ million of his own money to help build a stadium and the team likely can't go to Hennepin County, which increased its sales tax to fund a Twins stadium, in hopes of getting a similar deal.
During the 2006 session, the state approved not only a new Twins stadium, but a stadium deal for the University of Minnesota football team. The Vikings were left behind, but it was felt that they would be next in line. That hasn't happened and with 2008 being an election year, it was going to be a hard sell to get anything done this time around. So the hopes of stadium supporters is now pinned on 2009.
While the study is a positive step forward in assuring that the Vikings don't leave, it is troubling that Minnesota lawmakers are taking such a hard-line stance against the stadium. While the cost is close to $1 billion, the economic impact of the Vikings on the community – from the taxes they pay on administration and player salaries to the charitable work done throughout the community to the visibility of having professional sports has on a metropolitan area – is enormous but going largely unacknowledged.
Once the study is completed, it will be clearer how and if a new stadium is going to get done. The Vikings and the state are on the clock. If something doesn't happen in the 2009 session, the wheels will likely begin turning to begin the process of relocation. The Vikings haven't put a gun to the state's head like the Twins did when their ownership gave its blessing of contracting (eliminating) the team from existence – only to be saved by a strong push to complete a new stadium. Unlike baseball, the NFL won't have to contract and their will be plenty of cities lining up to take on a NFL team. The study is a promising step, but just the first in many hurdles that will need to be crossed before a new stadium deal can get approved.
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