NFL officials got a pretty clear answer Monday to their questions about support for public financing of a new Minnesota Vikings football stadium: Not in 2008.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller sent that message in separate, private meetings with league officials at the Capitol. The team enlisted the NFL in its quest for a new $954 million stadium complex on the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis.
"Unlikely," said Kelliher, the most powerful Democrat in the House.
State leaders have their own worries right now, with a $373 million deficit projected by mid-2009 and gnawing questions about the state of Minnesota's transportation infrastructure after the fatal Interstate 35W bridge collapse in August. They're also getting complaints about rising property taxes and school funding.
The Republican governor also dismissed stadium talk ahead of his afternoon meeting with league officials.
"We've got other priorities right now," Pawlenty said.
Kelliher said: "Right now the top concerns for legislators remain these issues of basic economics, which includes the investment in our transportation infrastructure. Until we can resolve those things, I think other things are going to have to wait."
Those comments were echoed by Pogemiller, the top DFL senator.
He put a new home for the Vikings at the bottom of a list of expensive priorities, including spending on highways, bridges, mass transit, colleges and universities, public schools and early childhood programs.
Still, the NFL representatives emerged from their last Capitol meeting, this one with Pawlenty, saying they were encouraged.
What's important, said NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman, is not timing but that everyone agreed the team should come up with a stadium plan.
"While there are competing priorities, they thought this was an important initiative and they were ready to spend some time and effort on it," Grubman said.
Grubman said a league fund called G-3 was tapped out with construction of a new Giants-Jets stadium in New Jersey, but a Vikings stadium plan that wins support from other NFL owners might still get some unspecified financial backing from the league.
The proposal from Vikings owner Zygi Wilf includes a retractable roof stadium and a sweeping redevelopment of the downtown area surrounding the Metrodome. Wilf has pledged about $250 million for the new stadium and more to redevelop the surrounding area.
The team's Metrodome lease is set to expire in 2011, and the Vikings have long lamented the lack of revenue generated by the drab facility.
Previous owner Red McCombs started banging the drum for a new stadium almost 10 years ago and sold the team to Wilf after being unsuccessful in securing public support.
Wilf, a real estate developer from New Jersey, has thrown his considerable business savvy and financial prowess behind this new proposal, saying that a new stadium is needed so the Vikings can remain competitive with other NFL teams who take in millions more in revenue from their home games.