After Metrodome collapse, new stadium debate takes a turn

Collapsed Metrodome
Snow falls into the field from a hole in the collapsed roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010. The inflatable roof of the Metrodome collapsed Sunday after a snowstorm that dumped 17 inches (43 cms) on Minneapolis. No one was hurt.
Ann Heisenfelt/AP

It's an odd situation for the Minnesota Vikings.

The team is playing a home game tonight in Detroit because of the roof collapse at the Metrodome Sunday. It's no secret the Vikings would like to play all their games in a new stadium in Minnesota, and one lawmaker said Monday a new stadium is now a public safety issue.

Team officials said their primary focus is on Monday's rescheduled and relocated game with the New York Giants in Detroit. They aren't talking about the stadium issue.

The free tickets for the game were snapped up quickly, and at least some Vikings fans headed there from Minnesota to catch it in person.

But the loss of a home game means a big financial hit for the Vikings, who have already announced plans for ticket refunds. The Star Tribune reports that the team grosses $4.5 million from each game at the Metrodome.

The lost game is also a big hit on the local economy. David Nelson, a community economics educator with University of Minnesota Extension Service, said out-of-town Vikings fans spend about $9.1 million outside of the stadium.

"Of the $230 spent by the average attendee, $60 is spent in restaurants, $57 is spent in lodging," Nelson said. "Then the other categories of smaller amounts include retail, entertainment, transportation."

REPAIR TIMETABLE

Next week's game is also up in the air, pending the timetable for repairs. Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Executive Director Bill Lester said representatives of the original manufacturer of the roof material, Birdair Inc. of Amherst, New York, are in Minneapolis looking at the damage.

"There's a method of patching that's Teflon coated fiberglass. It's 1/32 of an inch thick. It's very strong," Lester said. "It's been up there for 28 years. We tested it last summer and it still exceeds the original specifications."

Once the roof is repaired, Lester insists the Metrodome can still be functional facility. But he said a new or reconstructed stadium would help the Vikings to maximize revenues and compete with other NFL teams.

MIXED REACTION AT CAPITOL

During an interview late last week on various legislative issues, House Speaker-designate Kurt Zellers talked about the likelihood of a Vikings stadium bill during the 2011 session. Zellers tried to downplay the urgency of replacing the Metrodome.

"You know, it's not as if the building will blow up after the season this year," Zellers said. "It's going to be there. I would hope we don't get into panic mode and then make a bad decision."

Zellers couldn't have predicted the weekend roof collapse, and his spokesman said the event does not change the state budget situation or doesn't speed up the need to take up a stadium bill.

"If you lose a few shingles in a wind storm or a hail storm, you fix the shingles and repair your roof. You don't tear down your house and build a new one," Zellers said.

But other legislators see it different.

"There will absolutely be a stadium bill this session. I think this is the session to get this done," said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont.

She's working on a bill to address the stadium issue without state money and keep the Vikings from leaving Minnesota. With the team's Metrodome lease expiring at the end of next year, Rosen said there is urgency. She also thinks the roof collapse will change the focus of the debate.

"I'm not sure it will change it dramatically, but we have not had a really thorough, good discussion about the practicality of that dome, and whether its feasible to refurbish it, if that's something the Vikings really want," Rosen said. "Is it profitable? And then, of course, now it's a safety issue."

Rosen promises to unveil a bill next month with strong bipartisan support.

Gov.-elect Mark Dayton said repeatedly during the campaign that he could support a stadium bill if it was a benefit to Minnesota.

Dayton's press secretary Katie Tinucci said it's too early to know what impact the collapse will have on that discussion, but she said Dayton visited the Metrodome Sunday to see how the damage may affect future decisions.

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