The Minnesota Vikings have spent more than a decade trying to get public funding to help them build a new stadium to replace the drab and outdated Metrodome.
After a meeting with two prominent state senators on Tuesday, owner Zygi Wilf feels the team is getting closer and closer to making that happen.
Zygi and brother Mark Wilf met with Sens. Julie Rosen and Dave Senjem to discuss the work the team has been doing to present a package to the Legislature for a vote.
“They're very encouraged on the progress we're making,” Zygi Wilf said. “And we feel that a deal is going to be in the works shortly.”
The Associated Press left messages for both senators seeking comment.
Rosen, R-Fairmont, has been the lead Senate sponsor of stadium legislation. Senjem last week was elected Senate majority leader after a leadership shuffle among Senate Republicans, and his elevation to that post has been seen as positive for stadium prospects since he's been more open to partial public funding for the project than have other prominent GOP lawmakers.
Stadium backers in the Legislature hope to release a proposal in bill form, identifying both a specific site and a way to cover the state's share, in advance of the legislative session that begins on Jan. 24.
The team's lease at the Metrodome expires on Feb. 1, essentially turning the Vikings into a free agent without a home. The Wilf family has said all along that they are committed to getting a deal done to keep the team in Minnesota for the long-term.
“We want to make sure, as many as the people we've met on the Legislature, the governor, and the fans, to establish a home that will ensure this franchise for generations to come,” Zygi Wilf said. “A home that we can be proud of, a home we can enjoy with our families and also to keep on the traditions of Minnesota Vikings football.”
The Vikings are proposing a $1.1 billion stadium in the St. Paul suburb of Arden Hills. But some state leaders have urged the team to also consider sites in downtown Minneapolis.
Zygi Wilf said the team remains committed to getting a deal done with Ramsey County and Arden Hills, but is keeping all of its options open as they try to secure public funding to help pay for it. The only sure thing, he said, is that all the sites are in Minnesota.
For now, the team is working to make sure it has a proposal to present before the next session begins.
“Our goal is to be making sure that we have a viable plan and we're working as we speak on a deal,” Zygi Wilf said.
The Wilfs met with Rosen and Senjem on the same day they announced a new power structure with the team, handing over all football-related decisions to Rick Spielman, who was promoted to general manager. Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier shared the decision-making powers this season.
The decision to make Spielman the point man for the football operations comes on the heels of a 3-13 season, which tied for the worst record in the 51-year history of the franchise.
Zygi Wilf called the season “really gut-wrenching.”
“A year like this year makes you really sit back and re-evaluate what has to be done, because we as owners and the players, and certainly our fans, want to make sure we get back on track to where we were just a couple years ago,” Wilf said, referring to their trip to the NFC title game following the 2009 season. “We're not far from it, and I think the structure goes a long way to establishing our goals and where the decisions have to be made.”
Mark Wilf said the decision to change the structure of the football operations was not related to the team's pursuit of a new stadium.
“Obviously we're trying to work toward a solution, a stadium solution in Minnesota,” Mark Wilf said. “But when it comes to the football, that's why the general manager and the coach are fully focused and our whole organization is focused on a championship. That's the number one goal of our ownership.”