The Vikings seem to be making a last-ditch attempt to keep their stadium hopes alive this year. Vikings lobbyist Lester Bagley told the stadium conference committee that the team is willing to ditch their plan for a retractable roof if it would build support for the stadium pitch.
The conference committee includes legislators from the House and Senate who are trying to reconcile the two bodies' dramatically different stadium funding plans. Several lawmakers have criticized the Vikings plan because it used some state money to pay for the retractable roof.
Bagley says the Vikings are willing to play without a roof. That would drop the total cost of the Blaine stadium by $115 million to $560 million.
"Green Bay has an open-air stadium. Chicago has an open-air stadium. Buffalo has an open-air stadium. Seventy percent of the fans would be covered. There are ways to heat the floors and the seats and to provide technology to keep our fans comfortable," he said.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf says he'd like the team to play outside because Minnesota's weather would give the Vikings a competitive advantage over teams from milder climates.
But Anoka County commissioners are uncomfortable with the idea. County Board Chair Margaret Langfeld says the panel agreed to a county-wide sales tax in exchange for a stadium with a retractable roof.
Langfeld says Anoka County wants the venue to be used for other events besides Vikings football. She says an open-air stadium in Blaine would never attract a Super Bowl or college basketball's Final Four, premier events that would bring tourists and their money to Anoka County. Langfeld said the board would rethink its support for a county-wide sales tax if state lawmakers pass a stadium bill that lacks funding for a retractable roof.
"We talk about it and we talk about the amount of our contribution. If it doesn't bring us the revenue to the county that a retractable brings, how could we ever be expected to put in the same amount of money?" Langfeld said. The vikings stadium hopes have less legislative and public support than the Twins or the University of Minnesota. Vikings officials have been working overtime to ensure that they're not the Metrodome's last and only tenant in a few years. The team is obligated to play in the Metrodome through 2011.
There are three Vikings stadium plans under discussion. One with no roof, the original retractable roof plan, paid for with a mix of county and state money and the Senate plan. That measure relies a metro wide sales tax to build two retractable roof stadiums -- one each for the Twins and Vikings and also funds transportation projects.
"They (the Vikings) are, I'm not going to say desperate, but I think they realize the train is moving here and we don't have too many days left," Rep. Brad Finstad, R-New Ulm said. He's the chief House author of the Twins ballpark bill and is co-chair of the stadium conference committee. Finstad says he's more inclined to address the Twins' stadium needs this session since a recent court decision allows the Twins to leave the Metrodome at the end of the season. He says the Twins plan has been before lawmakers for two years, but lawmakers haven't haven't fully scrutinized the Vikings stadium plan.
"As we go forward and we hear about some of those concerns from the county and the team on how this can be a deal killer, I think they're realizing that they've truly came into this debate into the ninth inning and they need to really sit down and bring to us what they can and can't live with," according to Finstad.
The other conference committee co-chair, DFL Sen. Steve Kelley says he's also reluctant to go ahead with an open-air stadium for the Vikings if Anoka County isn't on board. He says the Vikings and Anoka County need to resolve their differences and get behind one financing plan before lawmakers will approve a new home for the Vikings.
"I do not think it's appropriate to force a deal on one side or the other between the county and the Vikings. I think we have to preserve that those two are going to be the ones who are going to have to make this happen. I want to preserve the cooperation between those two," Kelley said.
The Vikings say they'll continue to make their push for a new stadium, with help from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. He is scheduled to appear before the committee as well.