Zygi Wilf (Brace Hemmelgarn/US Presswire)
While fans wanted to celebrate a stadium breakthrough on Thursday, it was hardly the end of the road. In fact, the real fight might just be getting underway.
Amid the joy of announcing a $975 million agreement between the Minnesota Vikings, state leaders and Minneapolis leaders, there seemed to be a certain hesitation still present among the many political figures who took to the podium during Thursday’s 45-minute news conference.
An agreement is in place, but everyone spoke of the work left to be done. Heard in those words is the trepidation surrounding a deal that has been long in the making and built on the shoulders of many other plans that have been squashed along the way.
Minnesotans and Vikings fans have been hearing about the need for a new stadium for almost a decade. Previous owner Red McCombs beat the drum and ended up giving up because a resolution couldn’t be found. New owners Zygi and Mark Wilf kept up the fight, and Thursday’s announcement could be the breakthrough they have wanted.
“We’ve been patient since we became owners,” said Zygi Wilf, who purchased the team in 2005. “We’ve been in support of the Gophers (new stadium) years ago and also with the Twins ballpark. We know how important sports and the Vikings are to this state and to our fans. And we’re optimistic that everyone realizes how important it is and it will get done this session.”
But the Wilfs have to remain patient. This deal is far from finished.
Yes, there were a lot of smiling, happy faces on Thursday, but the plan will still need to pass through the legislature and Minneapolis City Council. The Vikings announced a bill is expected to be introduced in the legislature on March 5.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton stressed the importance of a vote during the current legislative session. He also pleaded for the City Council to take action in a requisite time frame. Dayton said he’s received assurances from state Senate majority leader David Senjem and House of Representatives speaker Kurt Zellers that an “up or down vote” would be reached on each floor to come to a conclusion this session.
Dayton knows the deal might not appeal to all, but that’s part of the impossible task of getting a professional sports franchise, a city and a state all moving in the same direction.
“It’s the best deal we could negotiate,” Dayton said. “I’m not entirely pleased with it and others are not either. The legislators and City Council have to decide if this, as Senator (Julie) Rosen said the best deal available and possible, is good enough to proceed and put several thousand Minnesotans back to work and keep the Vikings here and build a showcase site for Minneapolis and the state.”
That will be easier said than done.
In the deal, the Vikings agree to privately pay $472 million of the plan, with the state responsible for $398 million and the city of Minneapolis $150 million. The city will also have to pay $188.7 million in operating costs over the next 30 years, while the Vikings cover $327.1 million in operating costs.
Legislators acknowledge the need for bipartisan support. Minnesotans and legislators alike have grown weary from the constant stadium rhetoric.
“The time has come for Minnesota to make a decision,” Rep. Morrie Lanning said. “Minnesota needs to decide whether or not we in fact do want to keep this team in Minnesota. I do. I’m committed to that. We want to do everything we can to keep them here and we believe that we have a plan now that stands the best chance of our being successful in getting legislative approval for this new facility to be built.”
Lanning said he has heard from many of his fellow legislators, some who approve and some who aren’t convinced. But he added it’s hard for true opinions to be revealed until all the facts are presented. Eventually, those facts will comprise a bill that will be voted on.
The toughest opposition might come from the Minneapolis City Council. Members of the Council reportedly have been hesitant to make this decision, instead hoping for a public vote.
There has not been a solid proposal yet and there has not been a solid vote,” mayor R.T. Rybak said. “Any reporting of people taking position one way or the other really is before they have all the facts. So we’ll continue to work with the Council.”
The governor, mayor, the Vikings and potential authors of a bill believe they have met the parameters set forth by legislative leaders. There will be no new taxes. Money will not come from the state’s general fund. Instead, the state’s portion will come from electronic pull-tabs and the city will use an existing hospitality sales tax to pay its share, continuing a tax until 2045 that would have expired.
Meanwhile, some legislative members have reportedly wanted to put off of a vote for a new stadium because it’s an election year.
Dayton offered a strong opinion when it came to putting off the vote any longer.
“Tell the up to 13,000 Minnesotans who are out of work who would have a job very soon if this project’s approved this session that they should just wait another year because other people are worried about saving their jobs?” he said. “I think that would be a very hard explanation to give to the people of Minnesota. But again, people have to decide for themselves.”
Some of the decisions have already been made, but this fight isn’t over yet.
Brian Hall writes about the Vikings for Fox Sports North.