The Daily Norseman Exclusive Interview With Lester Bagley

EDIT - There are new stories below this one. . .we're just going to keep this one at the top of the page for a little while longer because it's an exclusive, it's awesome, and it's exclusively awesome. So, if you want to see the new stuff, scroll down a little ways. - Chris

I doubt there's a harder working man in the state of Minnesota right now than Lester Bagley.  Bagley is the Minnesota Vikings Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development.  In short, he's been the Vikings point man on the new stadium for over a decade, and he was gracious enough to take time out of his ridiculously busy schedule, the end of the Minnesota Legislative session...and the impending Rapture...which apparently didn't take place...to give the latest update on the Arden Hills stadium bill, what happened with Minneapolis, and what fans can do to help get this thing across the finish line.  I want to thank Lester for his candid answers, and I hope you guys enjoy it.

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Lester Bagley, Vikings VP for Public Affairs And Stadium Development

DN:  What's the status of the Arden Hills bill in the Legislature and is there any chance it will be passed by the end of the regular session? 

Lester Bagley:  Well, first of all, we've brought forward a great proposal for the state and a great opportunity for the fans.  But as you know, we're down to the last few days of the legislative session, which by all accounts is headed towards a special session.  There's been a lot of activity--no public hearings yet, but a lot of public discussion, a lot of negotiations, so we're still very much in play for this legislative session, which will likely go to a special session.  We're still very much in play, we're still standing, so follow the budget discussions.  Once the budget is resolved, look for the stadium issue to follow that.

DN:  If there is a special session because of the budget impasse you feel that the Vikings bill will be addressed in a special session? 

LB:  That's our understanding, but we're not in control of the process, because it's the state leaders who set the timing and agenda and the negotiations for the special session.  But all indications are that the Vikings stadium issue will be a part of the special session.

DN:  If, by some miracle, the budget impasse is resolved during the regular session, will Governor Dayton call a special session just to address the Vikings stadium bill?

LB:  I don't think he'll have to.  I think if the budget gets resolved, the Vikings issue will get resolved.  The Wilf's have done everything that has been asked and have been patient.  We stood down while the Twins stadium issue got resolved, we stood down while the Gophers stadium issue got resolved, and we stood down when the I-35W bridge collapsed.  And in terms of the stadium, we've brought forward what we've been directed to do.  The Vikings needed to bring forward a site, a local partner, a finance plan, a significant local contribution, and a significant private contribution.  We've brought forward 2/3 of the equation, the team and the local piece.  What's left to be resolved is the state piece-how do you pay for the roof and how to you sort out the roads issue?  If the budget issue is resolved, we've had long, drawn out negotiations with state leaders, and we're in position to get our issue resolved.    

DN:  If no bill is passed this year, but you receive assurances from key people in the government that a bill endorsed by the Vikings will be done next year, what will be the course of action for the Vikings?  Will that be satisfactory?

LB:  We hope we don't see that.  Our lease is up, the (Metrodome) roof has collapsed, which underscores the fact that that building is not a viable NFL facility or a long term solution.  It will not sustain an NFL team, and our state leaders know that this issue has to be resolved, and it's in position to be resolved.  Our intention and hope is to get it done this session.  I'm not sure what the Wilf's plans are for next year.  There have been commitments made to our ownership group and organization from state leaders and previous governors that have not necessarily been followed through on, so we need to get this done this year.  We've done what's been asked of us, we're in position to get it done, so we're in pretty good position to close it out this year.  There is no next year in terms of our view or in our planning.  We are 100% focused on getting it done this year in Minnesota.  

DN:  Will Mr. Wilf relocate the team or sell to an ownership group that will if there is no stadium bill passed this year?

LB:  I don't want to speculate on what their plans are.  What I will say is we gotta get it done this year.  I think the leadership in our state, and our business leadership, understand the urgency.  The governor has been a tremendous influence on bringing this to the table and getting it to the brink of being resolved.  We're on track and our energy is focused on getting it done this session, be it the regular or special session.

DN:  So you're confident that it will be resolved?

LB:  Yeah, we have to be (laughs), but we're still not there yet, and it's still going to be difficult.  There are still some unanswered questions, but we're working on them as we speak.  We've been at the Capitol and on the phone, addressing those issues that need to be resolved.  We're close, and if the budget issue is resolved, we're going to be in position to pull the stadium deal together as well.  

DN:  Why such a delay on the Vikings part in introducing the plan so late in the session, and do you feel if the Arden Hills plan had been introduced at the beginning of the session it would have been approved by now?

LB:  Not necessarily.  First of all, introducing a stadium bill was not our call.  There was a focus on the budget, and the budget deficit, and the folks that are helping us try to resolve this issue advised us they would have to make some progress on the budget first.  If it had been up to us, we would have introduced the bill early on in the session.

DN:  So you had a done deal with Arden Hills earlier?

LB:  Yeah, let me address that.  First of all, we would have preferred getting a stadium bill introduced early on and getting the conversation going, but again, we're not in control of that process, and those folks (that are in control) kind of pushed us back towards the middle of the session.  This negotiation with Ramsey County and Arden Hills took a long time, and the conversation started almost a year ago. And the negotiations took three months.  And we were negotiating with Hennepin County for a location near the Twins ballpark, and that was a period of several months.  Ideally, we would have had the Arden Hills site and the Ramsey County deal a year ago, but it is what it is.  It wasn't until this last year that we had interested local partners that wanted to stand up and put their hand up and say we want the Vikings in our community, we want a million people a year coming through our county, and we're willing to invest local financing into this project.  So those are the kind of the circumstances we faced.  We would've loved to have a deal cut with Arden Hills and a bill drafted with a chance to hammer it out, but these are the circumstances that we face, and the leadership in the legislature has said from day one that until the budget issue gets resolved we're not going to address the stadium issue.  So even if we did have an agreement earlier on, we'd still be in the same predicament.

DN:  Looking at the timeline of the Arden Hills announcement and Minneapolis plan, is it accurate to conclude that Minneapolis just threw something together at the last minute, while Ramsey County really did their homework and were serious from the very beginning?

LB:  Yeah, the Ramsey County discussion went on for a year, negotiations went on for several months; it was a collaborative.  Together we negotiated an agreement, designed a stadium, outlined what kind of facility it would be and where it would be located and all those details that are required in a collaborative decision.  With Minneapolis, it was a late breaking development.  They briefed the Wilf's on their proposal, and it's not viable because it was not a collaborative proposal.  It was something they put together, and it's a broader tax package to resolve the Target Center renovation issue, it would lock in the Convention Center, it would provide some property tax relief, so it was a package deal for the city of Minneapolis that we were a part of but were never involved in the development of the proposal.  It was not a collaborative deal, it was not a negotiated package, and it was not how you put a deal together.  The way you put a deal together is a partnership.  You sit down, and you collaboratively put together a design, a (financial) package, and you negotiate the elements of how it looks, who runs it, who operates it, who covers the cost of operating, what kind of events go through there, all those things need to be negotiated, like the Twins deal was with Hennepin County.  The Minneapolis proposal didn't meet any of those criteria; we were briefed on Friday and they had a press conference to announce it on Monday.  We appreciate the fact that Minneapolis was willing to invest in a stadium and come up with a solution, but it was not a collaborative effort and it was not a viable proposal.   

There's been some speculation that since we've taken a pounding from Minneapolis interests in their effort to roadblock or block the Arden Hills solution and bring that down that Minneapolis will be left standing, and that's not the case.  There is no backdoor-the solution is to make the deal work in Arden Hills, not kill the Arden Hills deal so Minneapolis can come in the back door.  There is no back door.  This needs to get done in Arden Hills, our owners are 100% committed to it, and that's the track we're on.     

DN:  Why do you think Minneapolis was so late to the game in a stadium proposal, and why are they being so obstructionist now? 

LB:  We're focused on getting the deal in Ramsey County done, and I don't want to speculate on that.  All I can tell you is how it all went down, and it's (Minneapolis plan) not a collaborative plan, and it's not a viable proposal.  100% of our energy is focused on Arden Hills, and that's where we're going.   

DN:  The reported numbers are $407 million by the Vikings, $300 million by the state, and $350 million by Ramsey County.  With the road cost estimates getting updated and the NFL stating they will contribute financially, are those numbers pretty solid, or are they still fungible?  The road costs were recently revised, and if you see that $130 million as a sticking point, can you see a scenario where you get rid of the roof to solve the money problem (that the state has to provide)?

LB:  Well, we've been clear on the roof.  Because of the economics of this deal, it makes it extremely difficult to do.  We would be open to an open air stadium, as would Ramsey County, but the bill drafted in the legislature and supported by the governor requires the stadium to have a roof.  The governor wants a people's stadium, which means it has to be open year round and used by everybody.  The roof is $200+ million, and it could bring down the number, but I don't think that's going to happen.  The stadium has been designed to be a retractable roof stadium to host MLS soccer and have the experience of having Viking football in the fall in the elements and close it up in the winter.  Where we are is working on the roads issue.   Getting 20,000 cars out on the roads on gameday is what we need to account for.  So that's the work that's going on as well as working with state leaders to make sure that this two way partnership we have between the Vikings and the county becomes a three way partnership  with the state.   

DN:  What do you see as the ultimate end state for the Arden Hills site in terms of amenities-hotels, shops, housing development, what specifically?

LB:  It's a Vikings destination, with a Hall of Fame and team store.  22% of season ticket holders come from out of state, and 40% live outside the seven county metro.  We want this to be an ultimate fan experience for our fans, and our fans are getting excited about (this site).  But we need to push to get it over the top, and as thing reaches a crescendo we really need our fans to weigh in.

DN:  What can fans do directly to get this thing across the finish line?  We all want it done, we all want to see it, what can we do to help?

LB:  Well, I think our fans have been great, and your website has been great, and you guys have been great to support a solution here.  Follow the discussions as the budget comes in to focus, because that means we're getting close to the table.  And as there are more public discussions about the Arden Hills proposal, we really need our fans to get behind it.  Follow the discussions, make calls, send emails, and as this thing elevates behind the state's budget resolution it'll be time for the fans to step it up and give it that last push that will make the difference in the end.

DN:  Mr. Wilf mentioned tradition a lot during the announcement, and it has been a running theme in this proposal.  Why is that so important for Wilf and the Vikings?

LB:  As you know, we asked Bud Grant and Jim Marshall if they could be there, and they were honored to do so.  We're excited about bringing back that tailgate experience, and the whole fan experience, and bringing back that tradition that's so important to Viking fans, and NFL fans.  Every team that has a tailgate experience at their stadium is a successful team, we've heard loud and clear from our fans, and it's important to the Wilf's, who grew up on outdoor football.  Here we have an opportunity with tailgating and a retractable roof to take advantage of the elements in the fall, and then when it gets too cold, to shut the roof and play inside like we have at the Metrodome.  It's a great solution, we're excited about it, and we appreciate everything you guys are doing to try and help us.

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