Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it--George Santayana
I read another story from the Star Tribune today regarding the Vikings efforts to secure a new stadium. You know, the stadium that doesn't have a location, a financial plan, or a design. Yeah, that stadium. What struck me, aside from the stunning incompetence in this plan up to this point, is the fact that history, at least with Zygi WIlf and his stadium effort, seems to be repeating itself.
And it's not a good history. Let's take the Wayback Machine to the mid aughts, dawn of a new century, when everything was possible and Red McCombs, the evil Texas used car salesman, had just sold the team to Wilf.
But first, a video! I haven't posted one in awhile, and I think it's time for some Springsteen. Since I think this bill is a longshot to pass, ladies and gentlemen, I'm Counting On A Miracle:
Like the Boss says:
My king is lost at midnight when the tower bells peal
We've got no fairytale ending, in God's hands our fate is complete
Vikings Stadium History 101, after the jump.
The main reason Red McCombs sold the team, he said at the time, was because he felt that he wasn't going to get a new stadium in Minnesota, and at the time, the NFL owners were against a relocation of the franchise elsewhere. The Vikings still had 6 years on their lease, and the rest of the Billionaire Boys Club didn't want to go through another protracted legal battle that Raiders owner Al Davis gave them when he moved his team from Oakland to Los Angeles...and then eventually back to Oakland. The NFL told McCombs that they would not support a relocation until every effort to secure a new stadium had been exhausted, and the lease on the Metrodome expired.
McCombs didn't want to wait that long, and with his big talkin' Texas threats of moving the team, he wasn't ever going to get support for a new stadium from Governor Pawlenty or the Minnesota Legislature; he had burned too many bridges.
Enter Zygi Wilf. Wilf was, and still is, the anti-McCombs. One of the first things he said was that he'll never move the Vikings, but that a long term solution was needed. He spent money on the team, upgraded facilities, brought in some high dollar free agents and hired a no-nonsense coach. But the stadium issue was still a priority.
Not long after Wilf bought the Vikings, he started some low key discussions with the city of Blaine in Anoka County to build a stadium out there, the cornerstone of what was being called "The Preserve at Rice Creek". The plan was going to be paid for in a similar manner in which Target Field was funded, an increased local sales tax in Anoka County. Yes, there were issues that needed to be resolved, but it was the best, most responsible plan, and the quickest way to get a stadium built. The cost? $675 million.
However, Anoka County officials thought they were negotiating exclusively with the Vikings, and when they found out the Vikings were still looking at downtown Minneapolis as an option, they pulled their offer from the table, and haven't discussed the plan since.
Fast forward to today. Last week, a Vikings stadium bill was introduced, yet there is no final location. Several months ago, the city of Arden Hills, owner of 430 acres of an closed Army ammunition factory, thought that they had a good location, and began talking with the Vikings about a new stadium there.
They thought exclusively.
Turns out, not so much. Earlier this week, Vikings owner Zygi WIlf said that the Vikings were looking at 'several potential local partners' to find a location. That, apparently, was news to Ramsey County. From this article here in the Star Tribune:
Wilf's comments, however, gave pause to Tony Bennett, the Ramsey County commissioner leading what so far has been the only public push by a local government to partner with the Vikings. "I'm concerned about the comments that he's talking to others, because we're led to believe that nobody's anyplace close to what we've done," he said.
That's awesome, Zygi. But Minneapolis should be the place, right? Well, RT Rybak, the Minneapolis mayor, said in this story:
It is unlikely that Minneapolis could lead a bid, especially when we're facing massive state cuts," Rybak said earlier this month. "There will be some ways we can be a partner, and we've already been a massive investor in infrastructure that makes the [Dome] site cheaper to build."
Sweet. In other words, the state is broke and we ponied up a lot of scratch to make it easy to get to the Metrodome and park (wait, what??), so look elsewhere.
Not only that, the Metrodome sight isn't even the only site that's being looked at in Minneapolis. The new 'center of gravity', or area that attracts people downtown, has moved west of the Metrodome to the Warehouse District, which is where Target Field is. (True story--My Dad used to work in a warehouse...in the warehouse district when I was a kid. The building, which is now a strip joint, was right as you come across the railroad bridge on Washington Avenue).
Mike Opat, the Hennepin County Commissioner that carried the water for the Twins in getting the county sales tax passed for Target Field funding, is less than enthusiastic about a Vikings stadium in Minneapolis, regardless of location:
"It would have to be the right site, the right partnership, a more significant contribution from the Vikings and a more significant role for the state" than there was for Target Field, he said.
"I'm in a state of exploration. I have no interest in having a big public announcement of a potential plan that doesn't have any support,'' he said. "It's got to have County Board support, including my own." Right now, he said, it has neither".
So apparently, Wilf is in the process of doing the exact same thing with Ramsey County now as he did with Anoka County in 2006. As I sit and write this tonight, I am angry and frustrated, with both the Legislature and the Vikings. For years, the Vikings issue was a non-starter with the Legislature, regardless of where it might be built and how it would be paid for. They insisted there were always other priorities, and both political parties used the stadium as a political issue to suit their own needs. Finally, there is a governor who is an enthusiastic supporter of a new facility, and support in the legislature, although not overwhelming, is about as good as it is going to get.
I am also furious with the Vikings. They knew that this was going to be the last legislative session before their Metrodome lease expires, and they have been tireless in lobbying and talking to anyone who will listen that they need a new stadium. And they do. They saw how the Twins got their stadium passed--it was with hard work, a location, a very good plan, a local government partner, and a financing plan that didn't include general fund money from the state. You would think the Vikings would've at least consulted with Dave St. Peter, the Twins guy that got the stadium deal done, if not flat out hired him.
But no. They not only didn't look at how the Twins got their stadium, they've seemingly done everything exactly opposite. Lester Bagley, the point man for the Vikings on the stadium, said this regarding the stadium situation:
Bagley said the Vikings have been talking with several local officials, including those with the city and county, but that no agreement has been reached. "Our hope would be to bring something forward yet this session, and there's not a lot of time left," he said.
Wait...WHAT? You have a willing partner in Ramsey County, yet are once again flirting with Minneapolis essentially knowing...KNOWING...that the chances of getting a a site, a financial plan, and a cost estimate with Minneapolis 1 in a million? The Minneapolis mayor and Hennepin County Commissioner even said as much.
As far as a Vikings stadium downtown, Minneapolis is dead. Long live Minneapolis.
Look, I love the Vikings, and I want them to stay in Minnesota, anyone who has read this site since I've been a blogger here knows that. But the Vikings needed to have a location, local partner, financial plan, and blueprints ready to go BEFORE this legislative session started, and as soon as the bill was introduced they needed to be lobbying the hell out of members of the House and Senate to get the bill through the required committees and voted on.
But I have to be honest with you guys--if I was a member of the Minnesota House or Senate, and I was forced to vote on the bill as it currently is, I would vote no. The reason I would vote no is because there are more questions with answers in this bill--there is no way that you can honestly say the conceptual ideas on taxes and lottery proposals will pay for a stadium, because you have no idea how much it will cost to build or will it be located, and that location will determine how much infrastructure improvements will need to be made.
The Vikings as an organization should be embarrassed for this pathetic effort.
They knew what was going to be required, and they have failed, miserably. The only hope I hold out is that there is a lot--and by a lot I mean a ton--of things going on behind the scenes that are getting everything finalized so the Vikings can get this thing done.
But based on the articles I'm reading in the Minneapolis press, my only conclusion that I can logically come to is that the Vikings believe that they can get some nebulous conceptual idea passed just because they are the Vikings.
This effort is laughable at best, incompetent at worst.
It is this combination of arrogance, incompetence, and hubris that will doom the Vikings, which is why I'm counting on a miracle.