BRIAN BAKSTMINNEAPOLIS (AP) ¿ The latest design for a new Minnesota Vikings football stadium comes with a sliding roof, soaring windows facing downtown, a lower price tag and an ambitious construction schedule. What it lacks is the clear support of the Vikings or any inkling of how to pay the $870 million bill. Consultants to the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission presented the proposal Thursday, the latest flashy rollout in a decade-old debate. The commission is the Vikings landlord under a Metrodome lease that runs through the 2011 season. "We know what the art of the possible is at this particular location," said Commission Chairman Roy Terwilliger. The new plan, which would cost $84 million less than the last proposal, calls for construction to begin next fall. The Vikings would play in the Metrodome while work begins and the 28-year-old stadium would be demolished after the 2010 season, forcing the team to share the University of Minnesota's on-campus stadium until the new building is ready in 2013. Vikings officials boycotted the hearing, and the team owners said they weren't ready to endorse the plan and are keeping options open for building a stadium elsewhere in Minnesota. "The discussion is much less about the stadium architecture at the Metrodome site and more about the need for our state leaders to engage in problem solving discussions," owners Mark and Zygi Wilf wrote to commission members on Wednesday.
The commission has failed to get the Vikings to agree to a lease extension, raising fears the franchise could relocate. Terwilliger downplayed recent public bickering between the franchise and the commission as typical friction in a landlord-tenant relationship. Aside from the Vikings, supporters of the proposal need to win over state lawmakers. Minnesota faces a $1.2 billion budget deficit, and state leaders say they won't let the stadium debate take center stage in the legislative session that begins in February. Gov. Tim Pawlenty met this week with Zygi Wilf but made no commitments. Terwilliger said no financing plan accompanied the proposal because those matters are outside the commission's charge. The Vikings contend the Metrodome no longer generates sufficient revenue for the team to keep up with other NFL clubs, most of which are playing in new or renovated facilities. The Vikings used to share the building with the Twins and the University of Minnesota, but they both have new fields. According to Forbes Magazine, which does an annual analysis of pro franchise finances, the Vikings' estimated $835 million value ranks 31 of 32 NFL teams and earns roughly $200 million a year in revenue. The Wilfs have previously offered to pay $250 million toward a new stadium. The proposal calls for a stadium with 65,000 seats, up from the current 63,500. More important, it would give the stadium 7,500 club seats and 148 luxury suites ¿ the big moneymakers in sports stadiums. The Metrodome currently has just 242 club seats and 99 suites.
Bryan Turbey of the design firm HKS Sports & Entertainment said it would be the most technologically advanced stadium in the league. The pitched roof would have a transparent look, but include a retractable panel bigger than the playing field. Ground-to-roof windows would face the Minneapolis skyline. From the west, the stadium looks like a massive greenhouse. Rebuilding the Dome without a roof would be almost $100 million cheaper. While the Vikings haven't insisted on a roof, the commission has. They say it is essential for hosting the NCAA Final Four, a Superbowl, religious gatherings and other high-profile events. Mortenson Construction senior vice president John Wood, who is involved in the project, said the lower price tag than previous plans reflects savings in labor and material costs being seen across the building sector. But he warned that delay comes with consequences ¿ a $50 million spike for each year the project's start is pushed back.