Vikings' dilemma: How much is too much for stadium?

Stadium concept
The Minnesota Vikings released this concept of a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, April, 2, 2012. This concept depicts a night scene incorporating the downtown skyline and events surrounding Vikings game days.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

If the Minnesota Vikings finally want to break out of the shabby Metrodome and into a shiny new, $975 million home, they face a harsh reality: They'll need to ante up or walk away empty-handed.

Throughout the franchise's latest push for a publicly subsidized football stadium, team executives insisted that the private contribution be capped at $427 million. The figure was "set in stone," Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said as recently as last week.

Now it is time to find out just how true that is.

By convincing votes, lawmakers are on record demanding that the Vikings and private partners foot a bigger share of construction costs. It's part of a broader skirmish over how much, if any, tax money should benefit a private enterprise owned by wealthy New Jersey developer Zygi Wilf.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

In the process of approving differing stadium bills this week, the Senate unanimously asked Wilf to kick an extra $25 million, or $452 million in all. The House wants $105 million more. Negotiators will likely wind up somewhere in between.

"The Vikings didn't get whatever they wanted," said GOP Sen. Julie Rosen, the bill's chief sponsor. She said the team will have to come up with more to come away successful.

To be sure, Wilf won't be cutting a personal check -- at least not for most of it. The team expects to tap into an NFL loan program for as much as $200 million. It could also cash in on naming rights, sell seat licenses and leverage other new revenue streams from a state-of-the art-stadium to make good on its debt.

Following Tuesday night's Senate vote, Bagley said the team is still standing by the amount it pledged earlier, but he acknowledged the final package is "to be determined."

"It has to be a package deal and a negotiation that works for all parties -- the Vikings, the state, the city," he said.

Sen. David Thompson, a Lakeville Republican, questioned why the public was shelling out so much on a stadium and becoming so dependent on gambling proceeds to satisfy bonds.

"I admire millionaires and billionaires," Thompson said. "But my goodness, we shouldn't take money from other folks and redistribute it to them."

The Vikings say their costs go beyond the upfront contribution. Officials note that they will pay annual rent and help defray operating costs of the building, which a public authority would also rent out for concerts, conventions, monster truck pulls and other activities.

The Senate added a new dynamic by adopting user fees on suites, parking and Vikings merchandise. The state would impose a 10 percent fee on suites and on parking within a half-mile of the stadium, and impose a 6.875 percent fee on Vikings clothing, trading cards and other memorabilia.

It's all meant to soothe concerns of lawmakers about a gambling expansion that is the main source of money pegged to retire public debt. The stadium bill contemplates tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue from new electronic pull-tab and bingo games in bars and restaurants. The robust estimates have drawn plenty of skepticism.

Another $150 million of the stadium tab will come from a redirected sales tax in the city of Minneapolis, where the new stadium would be built.

In sheer dollars, the current Vikings stadium plan would be the third priciest in football, behind recently built facilities in Dallas and New York. The public contribution by percentage could still shift, but in all likelihood a Minnesota subsidy is likely to cover between 40 and 50 percent of construction.

That would put the Vikings package somewhere in the middle of NFL projects over the past dozen years.

In Cleveland, for instance, the Browns' $290 million stadium opened in 1999 after three-quarters was financed by taxpayers. The gleaming Giants and Jets $1.6 billion stadium was built entirely with private funds.

Time has made the Vikings venture more expensive. Back in 2000, the team floated a stadium project of about $400 million.

Back then, the Vikings were staring at a lease lasting another 12 years so lawmakers felt no urgency to act. The team's lease expired after last season, though the Vikings are committed to play the 2012 season at the Metrodome.

The possibility the team could uproot has added an element of pressure to the current deliberations. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has personally lobbied Minnesota leaders to pass a stadium plan, and chatter about efforts in Los Angeles to nab a team is rampant.

Senators fed fears of losing the Vikings during their debate.

"We don't want the Vikings to leave," said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina. "We want to take the wheels off this franchise and keep them for our children and grandchildren. I don't want to cheer for the Green Bay Packers. I don't want to cheer for the Chicago Bears. We need an NFL franchise in Minnesota. This is the bill. This is the day."

Opponents weren't buying the threat of team flight and accused the Vikings of bullying the state into a bad deal.

"There's something to be said for standing up and just saying 'no,'" said Sen. John Marty, a Roseville Democrat.


AP Sports writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report from Minneapolis.