Vikings turning up the (stadium) heat

February, 12, 2009
2/12/09
11:41
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In the middle of Wednesday's FavreMadness, I spent an hour or so at Minnesota's practice facility for a couple of pre-arranged group interviews. I'll get to what vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said about the scouting combine later this week. Of a bit more immediate interest is the increasing rhetoric between the Vikings and Minnesota state leaders over the team's increasingly gloomy stadium outlook.

 
  Judy Griesedieck/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
  The Minnesota Vikings' Metrodome lease expires following the 2011 season.

To review: Last month, one of the state's top legislators said there is "no chance" the Vikings will get approval in 2009 to use public money for a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. In response, Vikings vice president of public affairs/stadium development Lester Bagley said that owner Zygi Wilf is growing frustrated with the situation and might "throw in the towel" on long-term plans to own the team.

The Vikings' Metrodome lease expires after the 2011 season. Assuming a stadium would take three years to build, construction needs to begin this summer in order to have a new facility ready for the 2012 season. If not, the Vikings could be "free agents" and available to relocate if another community is interested.

Wednesday, Bagley verbally hammered Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty for the lack of action on the issue. The Vikings are close to issuing a revised plan for a near-$1 billion project that would require some $700 million in public funds. Here is the relevant quote from Bagley:

"Some of [Pawlenty's] people, some of his key people that surround him, have been supportive and understanding what the facts are. That we've got to solve this issue if we want an NFL team. But they are still slow to the game. The governor has been, with all due respect, he's been governor for six years, and he hasn't done anything. He hasn't lifted a finger to engage in a problem-solving discussion to help us on our issue. And that's the frustration that the NFL feels, that our ownership feels and a lot of our allies, whether they be elected officials or not, there's a lot of frustration and there's been no meaningful engagement by the executive branch."

(A Pawlenty spokesman told the Star Tribune that he is working to solve the state's $5 billion budget deficit and considers it his top priority during this legislative session.)

Pawlenty has been no champion of the Vikings' efforts over the years, and so the team probably isn't concerned about offending him. This type of rhetoric doesn't mean the issue will never be solved, but it demonstrates the level to which the Vikings are digging in. For the first time under Wilf, they seem willing to play the relocation card if that's what it takes.

Bagley distributed a memo that notes the Vikings have 30 games, including the preseason, left on their Metrodome lease. He also said that representatives of Los Angeles developer Ed Roski have "periodically" checked in on the Vikings' potential interest in playing in a planned stadium in Industry, Calif. Wilf has declined to meet with Roski, but Bagley has implied that Wilf could one day sell to someone who might be more interested.

Given what will be, at best, incremental progress during the 2009 legislative session, this situation figures to get uglier before it gets better. You have to wonder if there will come a point where Wilf faces a very, very difficult decision: Keep the Vikings in the Metrodome until better economic times arrive, or putting the team up for sale.

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