Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Vikings stadium: Cue the threats, right?
By Kevin Seifert
We're all tired.
Most of us are cranky.
So let's get to the bottom line.
It's time for the Minnesota Vikings to recognize that their admirable but toothless stadium strategy has failed.
It's time to end the exclusivity they have given the state of Minnesota on this issue.
There's no more reason to tiptoe around skittish state leaders who root for the Vikings but won't commit public money to maintain their long-term presence.
It's time for the Vikings to play their last remaining card, the one I'm surprised they haven't used already.
What's the secret to securing public financing for a new stadium?
(Or at least the threat thereof.)
Even after their Metrodome lease expired, the Vikings couldn't advance their stadium bill through a single committee in the Minnesota Senate. It was rejected outright late Monday night by committee in the Minnesota House of Representatives, and prominent state Rep. John Kriesel said of the bill via Twitter: "it is almost certainly dead this year."
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley reacted angrily to the committee vote, telling reporters "it would be a mistake" to believe the team won't react accordingly to the news.
To me, there is only one reaction remaining.
Bagley and the Vikings' owning Wilf family have tried to work within the system. One of the first things Zgyi Wilf said when he bought the team in 2005 was that he would never move it. He's changed stadium strategies repeatedly upon direction from state leaders, including an abandonment of his 2006 effort to make political room for new parks for the Minnesota Twins and the University of Minnesota. The Vikings also buried a year's worth of work at their chosen site in suburban Arden Hills because political and business leaders wanted the stadium to remain in downtown Minneapolis.
It's time for Wilf to acknowledge in a public way that Minnesota state leaders might not be willing to support any part of the financing of a $975 million stadium. If that's the case, it would only make prudent business sense for the Vikings to begin investigating stadium sites outside of Minnesota.
I truly don't think the Vikings, the Wilf family or the NFL want to move the franchise. But state leaders felt little urgency after the Vikings allowed the NFL's Feb. 15 deadline for relocation applications to pass. As disappointing as it sounds, there aren't many legislative bodies left in this country that will take on controversial long-term issues when they don't absolutely, positively, have to. The Vikings don't have a lease, but they also haven't given themselves an option and have essentially asked state leaders to give them a break for playing by the rules.
I've always followed the theory that the Vikings' stadium issue wouldn't be addressed in a meaningful way until a crisis was at hand. And a crisis is not the expiration of a lease, at least if it's not accompanied by at least a realistic possibility that the franchise can act on its status as free agents and seek other options.
The Vikings have avoided the threat of relocation for obvious reasons. It's distasteful. It can hurt feelings, bruise egos and create long-lasting ill will in the community. I can't say I would enjoy covering it.
But I'll be fascinated to see if the Vikings find a way to avoid it now.
If not now, when?