Friday, August 23, 2013
Vikings' stadium drama marches on
By Ben Goessling
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- When it comes to the latest fervor about the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium -- an issue that had seemingly been put to bed when the Minnesota Legislature approved funding for a new facility in May 2012 -- perhaps it's best for Vikings fans to follow the lead of their head coach.
"Very little," Leslie Frazier said on Friday morning when asked how much he's followed news about the possibility of construction on the stadium being delayed. "With the shelf life in our business, very little."
It's possible Frazier won't be the Vikings' head coach by 2016, when the team is scheduled to move into the new facility, so there isn't much reason for him to follow the day-by-day developments of a state investigation into the Wilf family's finances after a New Jersey judge ruled against the Vikings' owners in a 21-year-old lawsuit. But a wake-me-up-when-it's-over approach might be sensible for the rest of us, too.
The Vikings responded to the state's investigation by postponing negotiations on agreements that would keep the project on track for its October groundbreaking, Minnesota Sports Facilities Association chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen said in a public meeting on Friday. If the team hasn't agreed on a stadium lease and a development contract with the MSFA by Sept. 15, a groundbreaking now scheduled for November likely wouldn't happen this year, and the Vikings could wind up spending more time at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.
But as long as it took the team and state to agree on funding for a new stadium -- the Wilfs were acquiring land around the Metrodome and making proposals to the state as early as 2007 -- it seems highly unlikely the project would be scuttled. Too many people, on both sides of the issue, have staked their reputations on getting the deal done, and the state was aware of the lawsuit against the Wilfs when it made the initial deal to work with the Vikings. It might be prudent, for practical and political reasons, for the state to investigate the Wilfs' finances in light of the decision. And it might be prudent, for the same reasons, for the Vikings to respond by putting negotiations on hold, taking the timeline to the brink of a delay even though the deal holds the team responsible for cost overruns that could be caused by postponing construction.
Most of the recent developments, though, seem to be more about sword-rattling than anything else. The state has twice stuck its figurative neck out for the Vikings, adjusting its funding scheme for the stadium this spring after revenue from its initial mechanism -- statewide charitable gambling -- fell far behind initial projections. Now, if the state's investigation were to turn up new revelations about the owners' business dealings, or if the Wilfs were suddenly unable to pay for the stadium in the wake of the lawsuit, we'd be talking about something much more serious than a construction delay.
But while news about a possible eight-figure ruling against the Wilfs, and the state's ensuing outrage, might make for good drama, it seems unlikely to be anything more than a brief hindrance to a stadium project that many powerful people wanted to get done. In light of that, Frazier's approach might make sense.