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Vikings plan for more outreach with training camp leaving Mankato

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On the field
The Vikings run plays during their first day of training camp in Mankato on Friday, July 26, 2013.
Jeffrey Thompson for MPR News 2013

Updated: 4:41 p.m. | Posted: 10:20 a.m.

The Minnesota Vikings will move their training camp to Eagan after a final pre-season in Mankato next month, ending a 52-year run the team says isn't practical anymore.

But the camp helped make the Vikings a state institution. It also put Mankato on the map, and the city is determined to stay there — with or without the team.

Ever since the Vikings unveiled the plan for their new Eagan corporate campus in 2015, including its own football stadium, the days have been numbered for one of Minnesota's most celebrated traditions: the NFL's summer residence in southern Minnesota.

Vikings COO Kevin Warren said the team will get ready for the 2018 season at its new headquarters in Eagan, along Interstate 494 where a giant field house is under construction.

"We're looking forward to growing our fan experience for fans in the Twin Cities who used to go to Mankato, who will now be able to take lunch breaks or afternoon breaks to come see the Vikings practice," Warren said. "So we think all in all, it is a win."

The team will benefit from consolidating its operations from five different sites on a single campus and save the logistics of preparing and moving back and forth to Mankato, Warren said. The team also hopes a dedicated facility will put players in better shape to take the field.

But there's no denying its a loss for Mankato, the state's 21st largest city with a population of about 40,000 and an outsize profile as the stage for the annual debut of one of the sports world's premiere franchises.

Anna Thill, president of Visit Mankato, the city's convention and visitors bureau, said training camp would draw an average of 60,000 people each year.

The Vikings bring about $5 million a year into the local economy, she said, and there's no real substitute for a two-week stay by the NFL.

"It's been great for our tourism economy. But, I would credit them for getting us to where we are today," Thill said. "I mean we do have a very diverse economy. Our tourism economy is diverse. So we're kind of holding our own."

She cites attractions like the Mankato marathon and the Kiwanis holiday lights in December.

For their part, the Vikings say the move doesn't mean they're becoming the Minneapolis Vikings — even though taxpayers all over the state chipped in nearly $500 million to build them a new home and put them in a position to build their new suburban headquarters.

Warren said the plan is for more outreach than ever outside the Twin Cities.

"One of the areas we're going to focus on is the expansion of youth football around the state of Minnesota," he said. "So yes, it will be an expansion, of making sure that every fan of this state, regardless of where we have training camp, even feels closer to our organization."

Training camp in Mankato next month will also feature commemorative souvenirs, a community thank-you event and details of a scholarship at Minnesota State University-Mankato, which has hosted the team for decades.