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Viking Quest: Stadium Debacle 2011

If you listen closely you can hear a whirring sound. That's whir of the collective twiddling thumbs of all those fine folks* who write about NFL football. We're entering into that football wasteland (imagine it to this tune) of the lockout stalemate between the NFL owners and the players. Our writing talents are spent on guessing when and where different players will be drafted, and recounting the arrests of players who are, apparently, getting as bored as we are. Fortunately, the Minnesota Vikings, yes, that team that kept you wondering what the heck would happen next all last season, have ridden to the rescue.

Congratulations Vikings fans, the stadium debate is heating up! Well, that's to say, the Minnesota legislature is all primed and ready to talk about the legislative proposal for a new Vikings stadium. So, in terms of temperature, we're going from cold to tepid. At the current rate we may even make it to lukewarm by 2016 when the Vikings are moving into new digs in Los Angeles. Ridiculous as it might sound, simply getting the Minnesota legislature to agree to talk about a stadium proposal is a big, hairy deal.

As recently as a year ago, all legislative discussion regarding a Minnesota Vikings stadium proposal was deemed frivolous. With the exception of a short-lived suggestion to fund a new stadium with a racino bill, a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, given the economic atmosphere in the country and state, seemed like a tough sell.

Mind you, both the University of Minnesota Gophers football team and the Minnesota Twins MLB team were stretching their gams in shiny new stadiums, but talk of the Vikings getting a stadium was, in recent years, portrayed as utterly wasteful. In fact, it was framed as the modern political equivalent of Marie Antoinette's infamous, "Let them eat cake."

Funny how things have changed.

No, the Minnesota legislature is still adamant that balancing the budget comes first and that there needs to be money for schools and police forces and firefighters before they work out funding for a new stadium. However, the difference this year lies in the fact that making that statement hasn't ended all conversation on the stadium topic. During the off-seasons the last few years, proposals regarding funding for a new Vikings stadium were dead almost as soon as a pious politician said the Vikings' stadium hopes were not a high priority during the current legislative session. That the current proposal, though universally unpopular, is still on life-support is a cautious sign of improvement. Very cautious.

While it's the easiest event to point to as the catalyst for a potential attitude shift toward a new Vikings stadium, the December 12, 2010 collapse of the Metrodome roof, it could be that this newfound willingness to at least talk about a new stadium is more a result of brinksmanship. There's nothing quite like a looming deadline to help everyone get serious about an issue that has been hanging over the state for several years-actually, the Vikings' stadium issue has been looming for close to a decade.

Six years ago in 2005 when Red McCombs was trying to sell the Vikings it was believed that a stadium deal would have to be forthcoming in order for him to sell the team. At that point, the Vikings had been trying to get a stadium deal done for several years. The Metrodome, though functional, was by NFL standards considered decrepit and incapable of producing the kind of revenue streams that newer stadiums do, making the team less desirable to potential owners. Despite the reticence of local government to address a Vikings stadium proposal, the Wilfs eventually purchased the Vikings but, years later, the team is still in an outmoded facility and still can't convince the legislature to take their stadium quest seriously, but now they have only one year left on their Metrodome lease.

In case you're curious, the price tag on a proposed Vikings stadium in Anoka County in 2005 was estimated at $600 million and they believed the construction project would take five years. If approved now, construction on a new stadium would likely still take four to five years depending on the site and any complications, but now the estimated cost is between $800 and $900 million. Delaying a stadium deal hasn't driven down the cost.

Whatever the most recent Vikings stadium proposal from Sen. Julie Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning might lack in popularity and specifics, it could make up for in sheer urgency because the Vikings' Metrodome lease expires in 2012. The Vikings, to their credit, haven't threatened to move the team to another city if there is no stadium bill passed this session-they don't have to. Media speculation has the team moving to Los Angeles or Las Vegas or even Oregon.

Gov. Mark Dayton seems to feel the growing urgency too, saying a Vikings stadium deal needs to be done this session. It should be interesting to see if this leads to friction between governor and legislature.

Clearly, there are a whole mess of issues involved in a massive undertaking like a stadium, especially one seeking public funding. So, over the course of a couple more posts, I'll look at some of those cluttered issues.

*If you have ever tried to beat our esteemed Mr. Christopher Gates in posting a news story, especially when material is in such short supply, then you know my pain.