Vikings ’Looking Hard’ at Downtown Spot for Stadium

Mon November 20, 2006 - Midwest Edition

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) When Minnesota lawmakers reconvene at the Capitol next year, they’ll have another Vikings stadium proposal to consider.

It might simply be an updated version of the 2006 plan, but the chance has increased that the NFL club will ask for money to help build a new place to play in Minneapolis.

Though a renovated Metrodome has long been pushed out of the picture, owner Zygi Wilf said Nov. 1 that he is “looking hard” at the viability of a venue in the same neighborhood on downtown’s east edge.

That could mean tearing down the dome and rebuilding on the same spot, or finding a place a few blocks from the stadium where the Vikings are under lease through 2011.

Either way, Wilf stressed that he’s serious about the possibility of staying in the city — a clear shift in focus based on several factors.

Feedback received by the team from fans and community leaders has highlighted two attractions of staying downtown. The existing light rail line and probability of future expansion makes transportation options strong, and a new stadium could fit into ongoing redevelopment of the Metrodome area.

So what does this mean for Anoka County, where Wilf pitched his $1.6-billion multi-use Northern Lights project off Interstate 35W in Blaine?

“It’s not real promising, I can tell you,” Blaine mayor Tom Ryan said.

A $280-million contribution from the county, with the team pledging the same amount, and a $115-million ante from the state through construction bonds were part of that development proposal with the stadium as the centerpiece. A provision allowing the county to raise the sales tax without a referendum was included in the bill that sealed a new ballpark for the Twins, but other facets of the Vikings’ plan are still lacking legislative approval.

“We have to explore every aspect of the proposals to see what would be best for our fans, for our clients and for the communities,” Wilf said. “Because in either case, we will need a financial partner in either community’s government to make this work.”

That’s what makes the Minneapolis option more difficult. Buying the necessary land would be a big hurdle, and there’s no current financing plan in place. Two years ago, the city wasn’t interested and has only recently warmed to the idea.

“We’re going to explore when the new session comes in, whether there’s the potential to having a financial partner downtown,” Wilf said. “Once that can come to fruition, then we can draw much better conclusions on where we want to go. Having that financial piece is imperative on getting this done sooner rather than later, because the costs are going up.”

Anoka County commissioner Dan Erhart echoed Wilf’s urgency in addressing the matter, mentioning the Los Angeles market that’s been without a team for the past decade. With the years on the Metrodome lease dwindling, the danger of the Vikings moving to another state has long been pushed by stadium proponents.

Though Wilf appeared with Ryan and county commissioners at a news conference in July to reiterate the team’s commitment to the current site, the owner also has let some of his purchase options for land in Blaine lapse.

Wilf also is fixated on an outdoor, roofless stadium to allow his team to take advantage of cold and wet playing conditions late in the season like the Vikings did from 1961 to 1981 when they played at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

Anoka County, however, wants it to be covered to make the venue more useful for other events. That’s been a contention from the beginning of these discussions.

“That issue is there,” Erhart said, “and I believe we can work it out.”

Blaine has other ideas for the land if the stadium doesn’t work out. Ryan said the city is encouraging medical industry development and will soon focus on that if the Vikings back away.

“If they decide to choose Minneapolis, then that’s the way it is,” Ryan said.

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