NFL Nation: Mark Dayton

At least two or three of you are asking what will happen if the primary source of public funding for the Minnesota Vikings stadium falls short of projections, as has been reported to be the case by several media outlets.

For our purposes, the most relevant question is whether the shortfall would delay construction, which is set to begin in October and be completed in time for the 2016 season. The short answer: Probably not.

The state's $498 million share of the $975 million project is to be paid for through sales of electronic pull-tabs. But the final two pages of the stadium bill provide for two "blink-on" funding provisions as backups. The first is an NFL-themed lottery and the second, if necessary, is a 10 percent tax on luxury suites.

And what of the doomsday scenario, where all three provisions fall short of the money required for the state's annual payments? At that point, from what I can tell, the state would have to produce money from its general fund -- something Gov. Mark Dayton promised not to do when campaigning for the facility.

While important, those machinations are sort of inside politics for the NFC North blog. The bottom line is there is a backup plan in place if not enough of you utilize those electronic pull-tabs. It would go against the spirit of the agreement, but when has a stadium construction ever proceeded without a hiccup or change of plans?

Mark Dayton, you already approved PSLs

November, 13, 2012
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On Monday, I suggested that anyone who thought the Minnesota Vikings wouldn't pursue some form of personal seat licenses (PSLs) for their new stadium was at least na´ve and, worst, delusional. Apparently that group includes the governor of Minnesota.

Gov. Mark Dayton fired off an angry letter to team owners Tuesday that, among other things, threatened to scuttle the team's $975 million stadium deal if the team institutes PSLs -- a plan that is under consideration but has not been finalized. PSL revenue would go to the Vikings, and therefore help offset their $477 million share of the deal, and Dayton wrote: "I strongly oppose shifting any part of the team's responsibility for those costs onto Minnesota Vikings fans. This Private Contribution is your responsibility, not theirs."

That makes sense in the real world. The Vikings' owners are rich men, and the NFL is a $9 billion industry. No one will go bankrupt if they don't claim a few thousand extra dollars from key season-ticket holders.

But there are some major holes in what is really just a sloppy political maneuver. The first: The stadium legislation Dayton signed last spring explicitly gave the Vikings clearance to sell PSLs through the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. Further, it allows them to count the revenues toward its share of construction costs.

Don't believe me? I dug up the legislation itself online and found the relevant passages. Here you go:
On the topic of what the bill refers to as "stadium builder's licenses," the legislation says: "The authority shall own and retain the exclusive right to sell stadium builder's licenses in the stadium. The authority will retain the NFL team to act as the authority's agent in marketing and selling such licenses."

In a subsection on the Vikings' contribution, the bill reads: "The NFL team/private contribution, including stadium builder's license proceeds, for stadium costs must be made in cash in the amount of $477,000,000."

Look, no one other than the Vikings and the NFL wants PSLs. I don't like them any more than you do. And I realize Dayton is doing what politicians do, which is to at least appear to defend us commoners. But his threat is silly and hollow when you realize he already agreed to what he is now protesting. If he felt so strongly about PSLs, he should have taken a stand during final negotiations.

In the big picture, this episode falls into the category of Minnesota politicians and businessmen not accepting the cost of doing business with the NFL. State leaders spent more than a decade fighting against the idea of public subsidies for a new stadium. But when faced with the consequences of that position, namely the likely departure of the franchise, they struck a deal that will cost taxpayers more than three times what it would have if they had agreed to build at the start of that fight.

PSLs are the same way. They've been used in more than half of the NFL's stadiums and, as distasteful as they seem, have proven reliable revenue producers. They're fair game based on the legislation. What made Dayton or anyone else think the Vikings wouldn't use them? A for-profit business should turn down the opportunity to generate revenue? Come on. Protests against inevitability are a waste of time.
Zygi WilfIcon SMIZygi Wilf was able to secure a new stadium for the team without resorting to threats of relocation.

More than a decade of memories came flooding back after seeing the Minnesota Vikings' stadium bill pass through the state Senate and head toward the inevitable signature of Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday, ensuring at least 30 more years of franchise continuity.

I picked up the beat in 2001, when state leaders began years of inattention by insisting the Sept. 11 attacks made for an inappropriate time to discuss stadium subsidies. I remember calling a young state legislator named Tim Pawlenty, who cheerfully suggested the team's top stadium lobbyist secure a straight salary rather than working on commission. "There's just no appetite here for more stadiums," Pawlenty said a few years before he was elected governor.

I took a trip to San Antonio, home of former owner Red McCombs, to scout it out as a potential relocation site. I wrote about an NFL meeting in 2003 in which league officials made a preliminary plan to place the Vikings in the NFC West if they eventually relocated to Los Angeles. I watched plans to share a stadium with the University of Minnesota collapse, as did suburban collaborations in Anoka and Arden Hills.

But most of all, I remember sitting in a converted racquetball court in the Vikings' cramped practice facility on June 16, 2005. On that day, new owner Zygi Wilf made a pledge that astonished all of us and figured to haunt him for the rest of his tenure atop the franchise.

Wilf said he would never move the team, regardless of a revenue deficit that forced McCombs to sell. He acknowledged he would like a new stadium but said: "If we're stuck in the Metrodome, then we'll be stuck in the Metrodome."

Given the years of inaction we had already witnessed, most of us figured the only way the Vikings would secure a new stadium would be by waving a ready-made offer to relocate elsewhere. But here, on one of his first days as an owner, Wilf had cut his leverage out from beneath himself and guaranteed a struggle to upgrade the franchise's home.

So on this day, it's worth noting that Wilf and his staff have agreed to relatively equitable terms on a bill for a new stadium without so much as an indirect or implied threat of relocation -- much less engaging in any substantive discussions with another locale.

Really, the only tense moment came last month when a state committee derailed the bill in a spate of political infighting. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell swooped into St. Paul to add some weight to the Vikings' campaign, and from then on final approval has seemed nearly inevitable. In the context of stadium debates, Wilf and the Vikings kept the tone cordial, amicable and most importantly aboveboard, securing a state legacy for the franchise and the owner himself.

It's been months since Wilf has spoken publicly on the stadium issue, a strategic decision the Vikings made to minimize attention on the "billionaire subsidy" argument and focus it on Dayton and the resulting job creation a stadium would bring. I'm sure there will be plenty of people who can't get past the additional revenues Wilf and his investors will receive in this deal, and I understand that. But in the context of professional sports, I truly think Wilf and his investors deserve some credit for saving the franchise for Minnesota.

Think about it. For years, state leaders fully exercised the leverage they held by virtue of the Metrodome lease and Wilf's publicly stated willingness to continue playing there. When the tables turned, Wilf declined to reciprocate and instead pursued a deal with the same people who wouldn't take the Vikings' phone calls in previous years.

Really, from a cold business standpoint, Wilf would have been better off minimizing his expenses, awaiting the expiration of the lease then shopping the franchise to the highest bidder from around the country. He paid $600 million in 2005 and, six years later, the Jacksonville Jaguars were sold for $760 million with a stadium situation much worse than the Vikings'. Outsiders bidding for the franchise almost certainly would have left the Minnesota legislature to match a much less equitable deal to keep the team, if it had the opportunity at all.

Instead, over the past seven years, Wilf and his partners have funneled the team more than $100 million in personal funds to account for a competitive player payroll, a larger front-office staff and modernization of the practice facility. Wilf aggressively pursued the stadium issue but passed on every opportunity to up the ante or enhance his leverage by turning his attention elsewhere. You might disagree with some of his decisions as a franchise operator, but Wilf and his investors have proved exemplary franchise stewards.

I can't control how you view Wilf and his group of out-of-town investors. But, Vikings fans, you guys lucked out. This could have been ugly and easily might have ended differently. Zygi Wilf made sure it didn't.

Earlier: The first post-approval questions the Vikings must consider.
Good evening, everyone. Just wanted to set the table for you as best we can on what might be another late night of Minnesota Vikings stadium intrigue.

The legislative conference committee is scheduled to open its formal discussions on merging the two stadium bills at 10 p.m. ET. As we noted earlier, there have been private meetings going on for most of the day and it's reasonable to assume much of the heavy lifting has been done already.

Indeed, both the state House of Representatives and Senate are scheduled to convene at 11 p.m. ET, presumably to be in position to approve the merged bill passed out of the conference committee. If that all happens, the final step in the process would be to send the bill to Gov. Mark Dayton for his final signature.

The big question is whether, or how much, the Vikings have agreed to raise their contribution. Both versions of the bill called for a higher total than their original $427 million. The House asked for $532 million and the Senate asked for $452 million. Again, it's reasonable to expect the total to wind up somewhere in between if a deal is to be completed Wednesday night.

I'll keep an eye on it for a while but I'm not committing to sitting it out through the duration. Stay tuned on that.

*Update: The merged bill is complete and has been posted online. It pegs the Vikings' total at $477 million, or $50 million more than they had originally committed. It's not yet clear if the Vikings have agreed to that total.
I gave in at about 11:30 p.m. ET on the Minnesota Vikings' stadium bill deliberations. As it turns out, the Minnesota state Senate approved a version of the bill at about 1 a.m. ET after about 11 hours of debate. Here are accounts from the Associated Press, Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.

While there are several important steps remaining, this vote puts the Vikings on the verge of concluding a decade-long drive to replace the Metrodome. I'll save all of the grand conclusions and analysis until the process is complete, but it would be surprising to see the stadium bill break down at this point. Both houses of the state legislature are now on record supporting it, and we already know that Gov. Mark Dayton is ready to sign a bill. Only a bit of sausage-making remains.

Let's quickly address where the process goes from here.
  1. The Senate version of the bill and the House of Representatives' version will be sent to a conference committee, as early as Wednesday, to reconcile significant differences in the language. This is not unusual in terms of lawmaking.
  2. The most contentious difference, and one in which the Vikings likely will exert some lobbying influence, is how much the team must pay toward the $975 million project. The original bill called for $427 million. The House raised it to $532 million and the Senate to $452 million. Common ground must be reached to move on.
  3. The Senate added a set of user fees to augment the original funding sources, and those fees are probably one of the reasons the bill passed the Senate. According to the Star Tribune, the fees include: "a 10 percent fee on the sale or rental of stadium suites, a 10 percent fee on parking within a half mile of the stadium during NFL events and a 6.875 percent fee on team jerseys and other league-licensed products sold at the stadium." The Vikings are opposed to user fees because they cut into team revenue they would otherwise receive on sales of those items.
  4. Assuming the conference committee agrees on one unified bill, it will be sent back to both houses for a vote.
  5. If approved in both houses, the bill will be sent to Dayton for his signature.

My understanding is that all of this must happen in the next two working days of the legislature. By law, the legislative session can't extend beyond 120 days and Tuesday was day No. 118. As the world turns ...
On Wednesday, we campaigned for resolution -- one way or the other -- on the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill. On Thursday, legislative leaders took a big step in that direction by scheduling a vote on the floor of the state House of Representatives for Monday.

If the bill is approved by a majority of representatives, it would then be debated on the floor of the state Senate. Approval there could send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee for a final draft before it is sent to Gov. Mark Dayton.

So unless that schedule is amended, which is always possibility, we'll soon get the resolution we've been looking for. It will either die on the floor of the House early next week or move on for further debate.

That much seems obvious. Far more difficult is handicapping the bill's chances for approval, especially after a wild 48-hour stretch that ended Thursday afternoon with Republican leaders pulling a last-minute proposal to change the way the state's portion is financed. The bill to be heard Monday will include the original language to finance through electronic pull-tab games, something many in the Republican majority oppose. In fact, House Speaker Kurt Zellers said he will vote against the bill and called on Dayton to round up the "yes" votes himself.

It's reasonable to wonder if a bill could pass without support from the leader of the majority party. And this week's dramatics might have, in the end, revealed spotty support for legislative approval. But the bottom line is there are no longer appear any impediments to getting what the Vikings, the NFL and many of us in the observer's role have been asking for: A final answer on a decade-running story.

Lobbyists on both side of the issue will be busy over the next four days as vote recruitment hits its apex and deal making runs amok. Don't listen if anyone tries to tell you where this vote is leaning. The circus is only beginning.
By all accounts, Minnesota's political leaders received a clear message Friday morning in a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers president/co-owner Art Rooney.

"This is it, folks," Gov. Mark Dayton said during a post-meeting news conference.

"They served us a reality check," state Sen. Julie Rosen said.

"Things will have to be moving a little bit more quickly," House Speaker Kurt Zellers said.

"The writing is on the wall," Dayton added.

Legislators from both houses and parties emerged with clear marching orders: Revive a stadium bill that died in a committee earlier this week or face the departure of the franchise. Goodell said he made "no implied threats or any threats at all," but in reality he didn't need to. As we discussed Thursday, the team and league are giving the state another 10 or so days of exclusivity before opening the door to relocation alternatives.

That in itself wouldn't lead to relocation, but it would put Minnesota in competition with other municipalities for the first time in the 10-plus year battle on this issue.

The legislative leaders offered different recollections of the extent to which the Los Angeles market was discussed, especially after reports that owner Zygi Wilf's plane was spotted in Southern California, where he often visits to maintain real estate investments. But Rosen, one of the bill authors, said Goodell answered a question about the subject by "clearly" labeling it "an open market" and pointing out that the Vikings "do have the right to move or be sold."

Focus now shifts to the Minnesota Senate, where the bill will be heard in a committee Friday afternoon while parallel efforts to revive it in the Minnesota House are under way. But the larger question is not whether state leaders agree on the issue. It's how effective they can be, or how willing they are, in strong-arming enough dissenters into pushing the bill to a vote of full membership.

From what I understand, the Vikings feel confident that enough legislators will vote for the bill if it makes it to that level. That makes the next seven-10 days the most important in the history of the franchise. Stay tuned.
MetrodomeKirby Lee/US PresswireThe Vikings aren't excited about the idea of building a new stadium on the current Metrodome site.
As the 2012 session of the Minnesota state legislature convenes Tuesday, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has narrowed the focus of the Minnesota Vikings stadium debate to one site. That's a good thing. Some legislators wouldn't have entertained the issue in its chaotic three-site form. One huge question, and excuse for delay, has been eliminated.

That Dayton's site is on the current Metrodome grounds, however, appears to have enraged the Vikings and shifted the burden of further progress to them. Do they fall in line and accept a site that appears to be the most economically limited and least exciting option, but also the cheapest and least disruptive? Do they wait a year, sign a short-term lease to return to the Metrodome and renew their push for a more vibrant site next year? Or should they exert the leverage of their expiring lease and begin fielding relocation overtures?

My guess is the NFL wouldn't consider the Vikings to be serious relocation candidates as long as a credible stadium proposal, however flawed it might be, remains on the table. Unfortunately, grandiose ideas and award-winning vision have probably met political reality.

The Vikings have pursued other sites for a number of reasons. Parking opportunities near the Metrodome are limited. It doesn't offer many commercial development opportunities, and rebuilding it would force a costly three-year move to the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium.

Their preferred site in suburban Arden Hills, Minn., has room for 20,000 parking spots and hundreds of acres for future development. Two proposed sites on the west side of Minneapolis, the Farmers Market and Linden Ave., offer the potential for a sports entertainment district with baseball's Target Field and the NBA's Target Center in close proximity.

The Metrodome site, however, might be the only politically viable option. Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak favors it because it's slightly cheaper and is situated on the region's growing light rail line. A divided Minneapolis City Council appears cool to the idea of selling the land required to make the Linden Ave. site work, according to the Star Tribune, and no one has been willing to touch the Farmers' Market site, which would require a complex set of real estate transactions before construction could begin.

The Vikings have been politically strong-armed into their least-desirable option. Part of their frustration stems from years of failed attempts to entice Minneapolis leaders to partner with them on a stadium project. The cool reaction led them to Arden Hills, where they have put in almost a year's worth of planning, and only when that site grew credible and serious did Rybak emerge with a proposal of his own. It remains in its infant stages even now, and the city met a recent deadline to Dayton with a skimpy four-page outline of its plans. Most notably, there are few details available on how the city would fund its portion of the project, and the Vikings have not said how much they would pay, either.

In the end, however, it appears Rybak has been operating from a position of strength. It's obvious that the most powerful political forces in the state want the stadium in downtown Minneapolis, and they have maneuvered to block off all other options. Legislative leaders have refused to lift a requirement for a voter referendum to approve funding for the Arden Hills site, effectively quashing it. And something happened in recent days to convince Dayton that the Linden Ave. site doesn't have enough political traction, either.

The next move is the Vikings'. They won't have much choice but to negotiate the best Metrodome deal they can, which would include folding in projected losses at TCF Bank Stadium into the total cost of the project. Waiting until 2013 offers no guarantees, and seeking relocation as long as the Metrodome proposal remains credible isn't likely to fly with the NFL. But if compromise means no one is completely happy with the outcome, then the Vikings and the Metrodome site are a good fit.

Judgment Day coming for the Vikings

October, 25, 2011
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PonderBruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireChristian Ponder, the Vikings' 2011 first-round pick, made his first start this week.
Two ingredients are mandatory for the success of an NFL franchise.

You need a quarterback to win games and a modern stadium to make money.

And at this moment, it's uncertain if the Minnesota Vikings have either.

So pardon the dramatics, if you will, but I truly believe the Vikings are entering the most critical time period in their 51-year existence.

During the month, they will find out if the state of Minnesota will finance a new stadium or risk losing them to another market. And by the end of 2011, the Vikings should have a decent idea whether rookie Christian Ponder is a true franchise quarterback or just the next in a long line of short-term starters.

Check out the chart to your right. Since their inception in 1961, the Vikings have had only three quarterbacks I would consider long-term starters. Fran Tarkenton (13 seasons), Tommy Kramer (seven) and Daunte Culpepper (five) are the only quarterbacks to have been the Vikings' primary starter for more than three seasons.

The Vikings have filled the other 26 years with a mishmash of journeymen (Gary Cuozzo, Wade Wilson, Rich Gannon) and big-time veterans at the end of their careers (Warren Moon, Brett Favre, Randall Cunningham and Jim McMahon). Their hope is that Ponder, 23, will put an end to their annual search for a Band-Aid solution.

If first impressions mean anything, Sunday's debut performance against the Green Bay Packers was encouraging. Ponder threw aggressively downfield; seven of his 13 completions went for at least 15 yards. He was mobile, routinely buying extra time outside of the pocket and gaining 31 yards on four scrambles. And he without question brought an energy and confidence to an offense that seemed to be treading water for the season's first six games.

"He took charge with confidence," tailback Adrian Peterson said. "He never seemed rattled. Just very comfortable, which is something I am very excited about. He bounced back from two interceptions and continued to go strong, which says a lot about him as a leader."

Peterson said the difference was "definitely very noticeable" and, as someone who just signed a seven-year contract extension, seemed optimistic about the franchise's future.

Smart Vikings observers know not to overreact to the emotional debut of a quarterback candidate, and there are plenty of unanswered questions about Ponder's long-term viability. After watching him float a few passes to the Packers' secondary, I would rank arm strength atop that list. But the next nine games should give us a good sense of where his career is headed.

If all goes well, Ponder will be the Vikings' quarterback when they open their next stadium. Where that facility will be located, of course, remains a topic of fierce debate both in Minnesota and in the NFL offices.

[+] EnlargeMetrodome
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThe Vikings' lease at the Metrodome, their home since 1982, expires in less than four months.
The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires in less than four months -- on Feb. 1, 2012. A top league official has already acknowledged the Vikings would be free to pursue relocation options at that point, and owner Zygi Wilf has said he won't sign a short-term lease extension at the Metrodome without financing approval for a new stadium.

Without a deal in place by Feb. 1, the Vikings could technically move to Los Angeles or another market in time for the 2012 season, provided NFL owners grant approval. That timetable has finally moved a decade-long conundrum to the front burner of Minnesota politics, putting enormous pressure on a resolution -- one way or the other -- before Thanksgiving.

Gov. Mark Dayton has set a Nov. 7 deadline for settling on a project site and plan. Wilf prefers a suburban site for a project that would cost $1.1 billion, but powerful members of the business community are pushing for a site in Minneapolis. After making his recommendation, Dayton will oversee two weeks of debate and public hearings prior to a proposed Nov. 21 special session of the state legislature to vote on the final package.

Anything short of approval at that point almost certainly would push the next round of debate past the expiration of the Vikings' lease.

Would Wilf commence relocation efforts next February? Last week, NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman told 1500ESPN.com: "[T]hey are free to explore their options and from all I know they already could be exploring their options. They do not need clearance from us."

It's more likely that Wilf would put the franchise up for sale under that scenario. Presumably, the new buyer would pursue relocation. In either event, we'll know in a matter of weeks whether that possibility will even exist. Barring an extension of Dayton's pre-holiday deadline, Judgment Day is coming for the Vikings -- both on and off the field.
As you might know by now, a busy day in the NFC North has ended with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton setting a deadline for a special legislative session to approve a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

Dayton said Monday he will call the session by Nov. 21 and conclude it by Nov. 23, provided there is enough progress in negotiations to give the bill a reasonable chance to pass. That gives a polarized set of state leaders about five weeks to assess the Vikings' proposal, including its site (currently in suburban Arden Hills) and required public contribution (currently about $650 million).

Much work remains. Monday marked the first formal meeting between Dayton and Republican leaders who hold the majority in both houses of the Minnesota legislature. Those leaders turned back all of Dayton's new tax proposals in the state's most recent budget, so Dayton has his work cut out for him.

But at the very least, the Vikings should be pleased Monday evening. The ball is continuing to move down the field, and at this point, anything short of "no" is good news. For the first time, it's possible to envision a specific path toward approval: Five intense weeks of negotiations followed by a pre-Thanksgiving 2011 vote.

No one knows whether that will happen, and Monday's announcement could ultimately be an exercise in shifting political responsibility from the governor's office to his Republican counterparts. Perhaps this work in the fall will merely set the table for a vote in the regular 2012 spring session. Regardless, if you're a stadium proponent, a potential date for a special session is better than none at all.
I can't say I'm surprised at the cold shoulder Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has turned toward the Minnesota Vikings' stadium proposal. State government in Minnesota, and probably other states as well, has devolved into crisis management of only the most urgent matters. Any decisions that can be pushed into the future are done so with no remorse.

And as we discussed last Friday, the Vikings' future won't be urgent from a political perspective until Feb. 1, 2012, when their lease at the Metrodome expires. Dayton's comments to reporters Tuesday afternoon indicate he has little interest in calling a special legislative session this fall to approve a stadium plan and might set aside the issue until the 2012 session begins in late January.

By then, however, the state will have used up every last ounce of the leverage it has held over the franchise during what has been a decade-long stadium battle. In essence, Dayton has invited the Vikings, the NFL and Los Angeles stadium proponents to begin discussing relocation.

Relocation isn't the Vikings' preferred route, and I'm betting the NFL wouldn't make them its first choice to move to Los Angeles, either. The Vikings have a 50-year history in Minnesota and a large regional fan base. On the other hand, there is precedent for a team mired in a dead-end stadium deal to arrange its relocation during a football season and move immediately after its conclusion.

The Cleveland Browns did just that in 1995. They were reborn as the Baltimore Ravens in 1996.

The Vikings issued a five-word response to Dayton's comments: "We are assessing our options." If you think that relocation isn't one of them, your head is in the sand.

I don't want to sound any dramatic alarms. Many stadium agreements around the country have been preceded by threats, ultimatums and other political wrangling not unlike what we're seeing in Minnesota. But if Dayton intends to negotiate a stadium deal next winter, the urgency and leverage gained by the Vikings will almost certainly result in a more expensive deal for taxpayers than if he had buckled down and addressed it this summer.

Remember our central stadium tenet: This issue won't be resolved until it blows up into a full-scale crisis. We're well on our way.

If you really want to be a cynic, a state of mind I for one am predisposed for, you wonder if the forces who prefer the stadium to be built in downtown Minneapolis have effectively put the kibosh on the current proposal for suburban Arden Hills. By delaying until next winter, local politicians would have time to shift the Vikings' focus back to the city. Their deal with Ramsey County contains an out clause that can be activated at any time.

Whether a Minneapolis option surfaces could be moot. After a decade of stadium defeats, the Vikings are in a position to turn up the relocation heat if they want. I think they should. What do they have to lose?
In essence, that headline was the answer the Minnesota Vikings received Friday evening. State leaders have decided against introducing their bill for a new stadium during next week's special session of the state legislature. The Star Tribune has the story.

State Sen. Julie Rosen, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, remains committed to the issue but said she would be "strung up" if she introduced it immediately after months of political haggling over a state budget. Rosen said the bill could be addressed at a second special session in the fall. Gov. Mark Dayton said through a spokesperson that he would consider calling the second session but wouldn't commit to it.

I can understand state leaders being unwilling to dish out some $650 million in public money days after delaying $700 million in funding to K-12 education in order to balance the budget. But none of them should be proud of the way they have handled state business, including the stadium issue. Most of their budget decisions merely pushed difficult choices into the future, and now the same thing has happened with the Vikings.

Earlier Friday, owner Zygi Wilf told Dayton "the time is now" to approve the stadium. The team has made no public comment since that I'm aware of. Given how far the Vikings came on the Arden Hills proposal, I'm guessing they won't totally abandon it as long as a second special session remains on the table. It's also possible they will listen to those who prefer the stadium to be built in downtown Minneapolis. Regardless, what's a few more months at the end of a decade-long fight?

On the other hand, it's worth repeating that the Vikings have only 10 games remaining on their Metrodome lease. They would be well within their rights to listen to alternatives should Minnesota's political dysfunction continue to cloud their future.

I've never felt stronger about my two primary tenets of this fight:
  1. Long ago, a wise person suggested the stadium issue would not be resolved until it fell into a full-blown crisis. In political terms, it's not yet a crisis when a team has six months remaining on its lease. A crisis, politically speaking, is arriving at the late-January start of the 2012 session and finding the mayor of Los Angeles camped outside the Vikings' facility. Until we get to that level of dramatics, no one will be willing to risk political capital on an NFL stadium.
  2. There is no right or wrong answer. It's merely a choice. The state is not obligated to provide a cent of funding for a new stadium. But if that's the decision, the state must recognize that eventually the Vikings will leave. The time for foot-stomping and asking why Wilf won't build a privately-funded stadium is over. It's time for everyone to make an informed choice and then live with the consequences, one way or the other.

Stay tuned.
As we enter the crunchiest of crunch times in Minnesota politics, let's weave through a quick calendar update on the Minnesota Vikings' stadium -- an exercise that will include my strong feeling that the team's final proposal will include a roof despite some Twitter discussion we had earlier Wednesday.

Onward:
  1. Today is June 29.
  2. That makes tomorrow June 30.
  3. The Minnesota state budget expires at 11:59 p.m. CT on June 30.
  4. State leaders are scrambling to reach agreement on a new budget before that moment.
  5. If they do, Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to call a special session of the state legislature to approve the deal.
  6. The Vikings want their $1.057 billion stadium proposal to be voted on during that special session.
  7. That means we could be a day or so away from finding out whether the Vikings will win long-chased public financing for this project. If denied again, they will enter the 2011 season as pending franchise free agents. Their lease at the Metrodome expires Feb. 1, 2012.

Failure to agree on a budget by Thursday evening would lead to a shutdown of the Minnesota state government. Presumably, the Vikings' stadium would be addressed when the shutdown ends.

As you might expect, last-minute negotiations between the Vikings and state leaders are continuing as both sides try to complete final tweaks and account for a funding gap caused by necessary road upgrades. Rochelle Olson of the Star Tribune reported Wednesday that the Vikings had lowered their project cost estimate from $1.057 billion to $820 million, a $200-plus million gap that prompted many -- including me -- to question whether the team had abandoned plans for a roof.

As we discussed recently, the original proposal called for a $206 million retractable roof. Swapping it with a fixed roof would cut $25 million from the project, but Olson's report suggested the Vikings were contemplating a more substantive cut.

Here's what I can tell you: There is almost no chance a stadium will get built without a roof, be it retractable or fixed. Dayton's support largely rests on the year-round utility of an indoor facility, one that would, in essence, replace the Metrodome. While it's a temping cost-cutting move, the reality is that an open-air stadium would be far more expensive on a per-use basis and it would likely cause Dayton to pull back the state's $300 million contribution.

If Minnesota enters a government shutdown, we'll simply push back this discussion to such time that state leaders actually agree on a budget. But if that agreement is coming in the next 36 hours, we should get some important answers on the stadium as well.
Given the state of political unrest in Minnesota, it's impossible to know when, or if, state leaders will address the Minnesota Vikings' 2011 stadium proposal. But as the team looks for ways to bridge a funding gap, you wonder if at some point the roof -- or at least the retractable portion -- will be put into play.

As you know, the Vikings' initial proposal included plans for a retractable roof, which represented $206 million of the $1.057 billion project. In addition, maintenance on the roof would cost up to $6 million annually.

As a result, the original term sheet reads: "If the Team determines a retractable roof is not economically or otherwise feasible, the Team may decide to develop the Stadium with a fixed roof." It also adds: "The Parties also have agreed that if the State believes the costs specifically associated with constructing and operating a roofed Stadium are too high, the County and the Team are prepared to modify these Principles of Agreement and to proceed with developing a multi-purpose, open-air facility."

Scaling back to a fixed roof would cut roughly $25 million from the total cost of the project, according to team estimates. On the other hand, a fixed roof would make it much more difficult to attract Major League Soccer, which strongly prefers open-air stadiums, and would also quash the team's plan to build a weather-based home-field advantage in the new facility.

I can see this issue both ways. If you're going to spend more than $1 billion on an NFL stadium, why not maximize its utility? After all, the cost of upgrading from a fixed roof to a retractable roof represents less than three percent of the total project cost.

But $25 million is still a big number, especially when the funding gap at this point is reported to be between $80 million and $131 million. I'm not sure if any politician would look past the opportunity to cut $25 million from this project.

The bigger question is whether the idea of a completely open-air stadium will be placed on the negotiating table. In response to financing questions, the Vikings could say: We understand $1.057 billion is a big number, so let's just eliminate the roof. That would cover the entire cost of road improvements and still cut the total project cost to $982 million or lower.

Gov. Mark Dayton, among others, has said an open-air stadium would defeat the purpose of replicating the Metrodome's year-round availability. Eliminating the roof could be a non-starter for that reason, or it could be the leverage the Vikings need to get a bigger financial commitment from the state. (Dayton has thus far capped the state's contribution at $300 million.)

For what it's worth, my suggestion is to eliminate the retractable roof element as a gesture of good-faith cost-cutting. It would be fun and nostalgic to watch football outdoors on a bright fall day, but it would be a luxury at a time of financial desperation. Stay tuned.

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