At Minnesota Capitol, Vikings owner Wilf pushes stadium, 'very optimistic'
ST. PAUL Acknowledging the clock is ticking, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said Thursday that he's "very optimistic" a deal can be struck on a site for a new stadium and the Legislature will approve a construction plan before it adjourns next...
Acknowledging the clock is ticking, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said Thursday that he's "very optimistic" a deal can be struck on a site for a new stadium and the Legislature will approve a construction plan before it adjourns next month.
"We're working very hard to get a site and a local partner, and we're very optimistic that it'll get done this year," he told reporters after private meetings with what an aide tallied as "dozens" of lawmakers. The aide clarified that by "this year" he meant the end of the 2011 legislative session, scheduled to adjourn May 23.
Wilf indicated there's negotiating room in determining how much the Vikings should pay to build what has been proposed to be a heavily tax-subsidized stadium. He said the team was committed to making a "significant" contribution and said the goal was to find "an equitable way" to fund such a project. He refused to talk specific amounts.
Wilf kept his comments brief and took a limited number of questions. At the end of the day, little light was shed on which site the Vikings prefer or how much money the team is willing to put into construction of a new facility - the most important questions surrounding its search to find a new home.
The team's lease on the 30-year-old Metrodome expires at the end of the 2011 season, and Wilf restated Thursday that he believes the facility is "antiquated" by today's NFL stadium standards.
But the team faces significant hurdles in asking for hundreds
of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. The Republican majority has pledged not to raise taxes and is proposing widespread cost-cutting to balance the state's budget, while Democrats have focused on trying to lessen cuts on, for example, services for the poor, presumably by increasing taxes on the wealthy.
The notion of endorsing a tax plan that would subsidize a profitable sports team is a tough sell for some members in both parties.
Currently, Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, and Republicans appear to be far apart on how to balance the budget, raising the possibility that no budget agreement will be reached by May 23, prompting a special legislative session. Many lawmakers, including Republican leaders, have said approving a budget is their top priority. It's unclear if a stadium plan could be considered during a special session.
But Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, a supporter of the Senate version of the bill who helped show Wilf around the Capitol on Thursday, said he believes lawmakers can "multi-task."
When asked about the time remaining, Wilf said, "It can get done."
Three sites are being considered, and each has obstacles:
_Ramsey County has been negotiating with the team over a site near Interstate 35W and U.S. 10 at the shuttered Twin Cities Army Ammunitions Plant in Arden Hills. However, it's unclear how much progress those talks, which have been occurring in earnest for months, have made. The site would require significant improvements to several roads in the area. Ramsey County officials have said they're growing impatient and are not interested in getting into a bidding war with Hennepin County.
_Hennepin County Board chairman Mike Opat and a number of business leaders are pushing a location west of the Minnesota Twins' new Target Field in downtown Minneapolis. The site would require expensive relocation of current occupants, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak does not support building there.
_Rybak prefers tearing down the Metrodome and rebuilding on or near that downtown site, an idea that could potentially involve land owned by the Star Tribune. However, that site appears to have no local funds, since Hennepin County doesn't support it, and Rybak has said his city can't afford to pitch in. It's also possible that tearing down the Dome would force the team to play at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium for several years, a prospect the team doesn't fancy.
Vikings officials have noted attributes and drawbacks for each site and have never been clear whether they have a preference.
Wilf refused to comment on any specific site Thursday and didn't directly answer when asked which he prefers.
If all goes as planned, a deal for a site will be reached within several weeks, and that deal would essentially replace the current bill, according to Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the lead House sponsor of the bill; other lawmakers; and Vikings officials.
The bill currently lays out a framework for financing a stadium with about two-thirds of the costs borne by taxpayers -- largely through a series of sales tax hikes -- and the Vikings kicking in a likely one-third portion. Estimates have generally pegged a stadium price tag at around $900 million, though those figures haven't been updated recently.
Thursday's events marked Wilf's first public visit to the Capitol this year, a somewhat symbolic gesture that several influential lawmakers said nonetheless makes a difference.
"Most certainly it helps," Lanning said. "He's asking us to come up with a lot of money, so it's good for him to come here."
According to a number of lawmakers who met with Wilf, both Republicans and Democrats, most conversations were cordial but not deep. Still, several legislators said they made their points.
Rep. Kate Knuth, a DFLer whose district includes the Arden Hills site, said she told Wilf she believed the team needed to pay more than a third. She said he listened but the conversation didn't get into specifics. Knuth said she also voiced concerns -- shared by Ramsey County officials -- that the team was trying to pit Ramsey County against Hennepin County in an effort to drive down the team's share of the cost. She said Wilf emphasized he was not doing that.
Knuth said she's heard from constituents both for and against a subsidized stadium, and she's not sure how she would vote. Echoing what many have said, Knuth said she won't support the current plan, which lays out a funding framework but doesn't name a site.
Wilf did knock down lingering rumors over possible talks to sell the team.
"There have been no talks," he said.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.