Zygi Wilf: 'Momentum' in Minnesota
MANKATO, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings are in the final year of their lease at the Metrodome, funding for a new stadium hasn't been secured and a developer has taken another step toward building an NFL-ready facility in Los Angeles.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf tried to disconnect those dots again Wednesday. He said Vikings fans need not worry about the progress to the west.
"No," Wilf said sternly when asked whether fans in Minnesota should be nervous that the Anschutz Entertainment Group got an endorsement from the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday for the funding and timeline of the project there.
"We have momentum here in Arden Hills," Wilf said, referring to the suburb 10 miles north of Minneapolis where Vikings and Ramsey County officials have agreed to put a stadium if the state signs off on the deal.
AEG has competition from Majestic Realty Co. to build a stadium in the Los Angeles area and bring an NFL franchise back to the nation's second-largest market, which lost the Raiders and the Rams in 1995. AEG's plan for a $1.2 billion downtown venue, to be called Farmers Field, targets completion in 2016.
Wilf and his stadium point man, vice president Lester Bagley, mingled with business and political leaders from the northern suburbs during training camp practice Wednesday. Ramsey County commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega joined Wilf to tout the job-creating benefits of the $1.1 billion project, which would cost $53 million more if it's not finalized this year due to construction cost inflation, according to Bagley.
"Our sleeves are rolled up. We want to get it done," Bagley said.
Wilf and his brother, team president Mark Wilf, met with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton last week.
"It went very well. We realized that many of the details that we were negotiating in the past, and questions that were asked in the past, were answered," Wilf said. "We still have a few questions to be answered, but we're very optimistic we had all the pieces in place and we'll be able to achieve bipartisan support to move this forward."
Dayton has voiced his support for a new stadium but was previously critical of the plan, calling it incomplete. One issue still pending is how to pay for road improvements around the site, and how much of an upgrade is necessary. Bagley said those costs have come down to around $100 million.
Wilf and the Vikings have pledged more than $400 million to the project, which also calls for a half-cent sales tax in Ramsey County that would contribute another $350 million. They've asked for $300 million from Minnesota, to be produced by new statewide sales taxes on sports memorabilia, luxury seats and digital video recorders as well as stadium naming rights, a Vikings-themed lottery game and an income-tax surcharge on NFL players.
Minnesota's $5 billion budget deficit blocked progress this spring, though, and the partisan impasse over how to fill that gap forced the state government to shut down for two weeks in July. The special legislative session on the budget didn't address the stadium issue, disappointing the Vikings.
The Vikings are pushing for another special session this fall, with the goal of approval by the end of October. Dayton has not committed.
"We're so close, folks," Bennett said. "It would be a shame not to put those people to work."
Dayton, at an unrelated news conference Wednesday, said he's asked officials from the Metropolitan Council and Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to further study the Arden Hills site before putting his approval on the project.
"It's not going to be resolved by the end of this week or whatever, but we're proceeding and hope people understand the need for the time that's involved," Dayton said. "There's still a lot of good will on both sides."
Associated Press Writer Martiga Lohn contributed to this report from St. Paul, Minn.
Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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