Friday, November 18, 2011

Are the Vikings staying in Minneapolis?

I preface this post with the following points:

1. I like the cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul and most of the people I've met in my three trips here over the past 15 years; and,
2. It doesn't take much to get a local talking about whether a new football stadium deal will get done in time to keep the Vikings in Minnesota; and,
3. For what my opinion is worth, I'd rather see the Vikings remain in Minnesota.

In the roughly 24 hours I've been in Minneapolis (and St. Paul) this week, I've had separate conversations with three people -- two are Minnesota natives and one is an immigrant -- about a possible new stadium for the NFL team. Each is a self-described NFL and Vikings fan. But their opinions about what will happen to the team are quite different.

The immigrant was my cab driver, who yesterday drove me from the airport to my hotel. He seemed to appreciate perhaps more than the other two people that in the end this is about business. For him, likes and dislikes of any one individual is a moot point. And he's optimistic that a site about 20 miles from downtown St. Paul -- Arden, MN -- will be the future home of the team.

FOX 9 in Minneapolis offered an update to the stadium discussions on Thursday night. In that story, the benefits, as the Vikings' ownership sees it, of Arden are partially addressed: namely, a bigger tract of land on which more parking (read: money) can be had. Arden is located in Ramsey County, whose board earlier this week approved the purchase of the site the Vikings prefer.

If a song from many a year ago could be inserted here, it would be "I Only Have Eyes for You" because the Vikings ownership publicly at least is committed to Arden and only to Arden as the future site for the new stadium.

The second person with whom I spoke about this issue reminded me that the Arden location used to be an Army munitions dump, so there is going to be considerable clean up involved. "Who's going to pay to clean up that mess?" he asked me last night. (Yes, it was a question he knew I couldn't answer.) On top of that, this person says, the Vikings have always been a Minneapolis and downtown team, so taking them out of that environment is breaking with tradition. (And, remember, as the FOX 9 report indicated, more stadiums of late have been built within big cities instead of in the suburbs.)

There are two locations being considered for downtown, and they are noted in this Minneapolis Star Tribune story. (And as you read it, please note the absence of any Vikings official at the announcement.)

For this second person, either spot near Target Field (the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins) is preferred to Arden. But this person also acknowledges that moving various buildings and a Farmer's Market makes that spot a somewhat difficult sell. Oh, and his dislike for the team's current owner appears palpable. No, he never said he disliked Zygi Wilf, but I've known this person long enough to take an educated guess on where he stands.

And then there is the pessimist. The third individual tells me that he's convinced every possible deal is going to fall through because the Republicans and the DFLs (the name of Minnesota's Democratic Party) are not showing signs of forking over the money required to complete any plan. Moreover, he believes that the Scandinavian heritage prevalent in this part of the country sets up an almost "we'll wait until it's too late" attitude towards such matters. (Those six words are not a direct quote; instead, you should read them as my summary of what he had discussed.)

He believes the following scenario will play out: No deal will get done, and once the Vikings' contract with the Metrodome runs out in February of next year, the team will quickly come to terms with officials in Los Angeles and be on their way.

"Wow," I said to him. "No NFL team in this city seems wrong."

"Let me finish," he continued. He believes the Vikings' team records, name, logo and everything else associated with its history will remain here (much like what happened when the Cleveland franchise left Ohio for Baltimore and became the Ravens.) "And then within a year or two, the politicians in this state will wake up and realize what they've done. They'll get a deal done, and we'll get the Jacksonville Jaguars."

So, I defer to the good people of Minnesota who will read this to add their thoughts. What's going to happen here over the next two months?

Oh, and the public will actually get a say in what happens! The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that two public hearings will be held to allow for civic input on the various stadium ideas and how to pay for them.

"The reason why we're having the hearings is to fill in the blanks on a bill that's just about done but not quite," said Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, who's leading stadium efforts in the state Senate. "It's just to get the correct information out, really, and then hear what people have to say about this information."

A joint Senate committee hearing Nov. 29 will focus on the Arden Hills site and three proposed Minneapolis locations, and another on Dec. 6 will address potential state funding options.

The state would need to come up with as much as $650 million as part of a stadium package totaling about $1 billion at any of the four sites. The Vikings favor a $1.1 billion plan that would put the stadium on 430 acres in Arden Hills.
One last thought: To the two natives, I asked the same question -- why not have the Vikings partner with the University of Minnesota, which built an on-campus facility just three years ago? Not an option, they told me. One said it was because the Gophers spent too many years in the Vikings' shadow when both teams called the Metrodome home.

The other was a bit more blunt: "The Gophers play on campus, and that means the Vikings can't sell any beer during their home games."

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