Just when fans of the Minnesota Vikings and residents of the state of Minnesota thought that the stadium debate would be guided by some clear political leadership, Governor Mark Dayton called a press conference. Mark Dayton has always struck me as a likeable guy, the kind of person who would be a good neighbor or somebody you'd want in your book group. However, when the cameras are on him and he has to be a political leader he looks sweaty and sickly, like he did yesterday during his news conference to address the stadium proposals he received last week.
I don't blame Dayton for being anxious about the situation, if I had to deal with as charged an issue as the Minnesota Vikings stadium situation I'd be popping Paxil like Tic-Tacs. However, the stadium debate has been on the political horizon for a long time and was something that Dayton spoke about when campaigning for governor. What everyone was looking for yesterday was for Dayton to reveal which site he would support. What we got was a list of pros and cons for each of the sites under serious consideration.
A definite answer, it was not.
What did we learn from yesterday's stadium developments? More after the jump.
But what did emerge from the swampy mess was that pretty much no one agrees on what site would be ideal. The team still prefers the Arden Hills site, but has said that they will not increase the team contribution from $425 million to $700 million. Dayton and his stadium point-man, MSFC chair Ted Mondale, said the increased team contribution would be necessary because Ramsey County probably wouldn't be able to raise its portion of funding through a 3% food and beverage tax. Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak and the Minneapolis City Council have said they think that the ideal site for a new stadium is the Metrodome site because that project costs the least and would also include money to renovate Target Center ($100 million). Governor Dayton said he felt the most feasible sites were the Metrodome and the Linden Avenue site, but that both of those sites had serious questions that needed to be answered before he could endorse either of them.
In his response to the governor's findings, Lester Bagley, the Vikings' VP of Public Affairs and Stadium Development, stated that Arden Hills was still the team's "ideal" stadium site, but that if building a stadium there wasn't "politically achievable" that the team is willing to work with legislators and Minneapolis city leaders on a plan that is politically achievable. Bagley stressed that this development was progress. When asked by reporters how it could be progress when it looked like nothing had been achieved, Bagley said that, despite how things might look from the outside, it was a "process" and that the process was indeed moving forward.
So, what's the upshot of yesterday's announcements? What concrete information can the fans take away from the Governor Dayton's findings and from Lester Bagley's response?
Not too much.
Of all the sites mentioned, we seemed to learn the most about the Linden Avenue site. The Linden Avenue site, not far from the Basilica of St. Mary's, seems to have the political edge--at least it does at the moment. A site in Minneapolis, it can take advantage of redirecting revenues from a tax that currently pays the bond on the Convention Center, it has support from downtown businesses, and, according to the governor, has greater potential for "additional economic development and job creation"* than the Metrodome site. Building at this site wouldn't require the Vikings to play three seasons at TCF Bank Stadium, meaning the team wouldn't lose game-day revenue or have to make costly upgrades to TCF Stadium to bring it up to NFL standards. Financing for the $995 million site would require a $450 million contribution from the team. Dayton favors using revenue from electronic pull-tabs to finance the state's portion of the funding. Unfortunately, the Linden Avenue has opposition from Rev. John Bauer, rector of the Basilica of St. Mary's. Probably not surprising that a house of worship that conducts Sunday services isn't thrilled at the idea of a stadium being built nearby.
As the other site that the governor thought was the most feasible, the Metrodome still has an edge, but maybe not as much as the Linden Avenue site. On Tom Pelissero's Tuesday night show on 1500ESPN, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak said that the speed with which the Metrodome could be rebuilt is an advantage. He elaborated that the building could essentially be stripped to the bone and then rebuilt with a bunch of luxury boxes so the team can start making more money faster. I can't help wondering how far down they would consider the building's "bone". Would the cramped concourses and lousy bathrooms be part of the bone, or more in the range of muscle and fat? How about the crowded locker rooms? I have this fear that attempting to build a functional, safe, modern stadium on the bones of the cramped, inconvenient Metrodome is kind of like trying to build a super model on the bones of John Merrick, the Elephant Man. It may be possible, but you'd need one heck of a surgeon to pull it off.
Well, after the press conferences gave us such nebulous material to ponder, I chatted with fellow DN writer Ted Glover about our impressions. Ted and I agree about a lot of things, but yesterday's developments fall into the same category as The Clash and Buddy Holly** where we agree to differ. These developments make Ted feel gloomy, I see it as more of a chess game with a lot of moves still on the board.
If, after Dayton's press conference Bagley had given the state an ultimatum or had said that the team wouldn't work with Minneapolis, I would have felt pretty gloomy too. But I see the fact that the team is willing to work with Minneapolis city leaders and state legislators as a good sign because, if the team really wanted to flee the state, yesterday would have been a great opportunity to announce that intention. As long as the team still wants to be in Minnesota and is willing to keep working with Minnesota lawmakers to find a way to make it happen, I have hope that a Vikings stadium deal will get done--despite how murky the issue remains right now.
*This quote was used to describe both the Linden Avenue site and the Arden Hills site.
**I love The Clash and Buddy Holly and think that they had a long-reaching influence on music. Ted isn't as sold on them.