Going long to pull in a deal with the Vikings
[size=13pt]Going long to pull in a deal with the Vikings [/size]
Anoka County upgrades a sleepy airport - and hopes it helps land a football stadium.
Mike Kaszuba, Star Tribune
Last update: August 27, 2006 â€“ 11:42 PM
As Anoka County tried to entice the Minnesota Vikings last year to build a stadium in Blaine, county officials alerted team owner Zygi Wilf to something he might find to his liking.
After a federal lobbying effort by the county and the infusion of $14 million in county money, the sleepy Anoka County-Blaine Airport -- which sits about a mile from the proposed stadium -- would be updated and undergo a major expansion. The announcement was seen as important because lengthening a runway to 5,000 feet would allow corporate jets, including those that bring affluent fans to pro football games on Sundays, to land more easily.
"Hopefully, this information will be useful to you," Anoka County Board Chair Margaret Langfeld wrote last August to Wilf, who signed the stadium agreement with the county the next month and has flown in to the small airport to attend stadium meetings.
The letter went on to say: "We look forward to completing a successful airport project to serve you and the Vikings organization and the entire business community."
Although the county's push for the airport upgrade began long before the Vikings talked of building a stadium in Blaine, Wilf's proposed $675 million stadium and entertainment complex will likely be one of the biggest beneficiaries if it is built. And while county officials insist the partially complete airport renovation was only a minor part of their wooing of the Vikings -- the county has pledged $280 million to the stadium -- they agree it could be a valuable perk.
Michael Hayes, the president of Crossroads Aviation, one of two operators at the airport that services corporate jets, compared what might unfold to what he sees in South Bend, Ind., on days when the nearby University of Notre Dame plays football. "On game day, there are airplanes parked all over the ramp, on taxiways, anywhere you can park one and shut it down, they're there," he said. "It is all activity that would otherwise not occur."
In Anoka County, the possibilities were not lost upon public officials. "That was one of the amenities we were able to offer [Wilf] in Blaine," remembered Ron Wood, Blaine's city manager. "As a matter of fact, we talked about that with Red McCombs," the previous Vikings owner.
To the Vikings, whose stadium plan is now in limbo, the airport upgrade is seen as an advantage but not a requirement. "It's not a deal-breaker if it's not up to par," said Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president for public affairs and stadium development. "But it is an added benefit."
Langfeld said she wrote to Wilf last August, as the county and the team were negotiating the stadium proposal, to tell him that "here's another good thing you ought to like about Anoka County." But, she quickly added, neither the team nor the county talked about the airport during the stadium negotiations.
Steve Novak, the county's lead negotiator with the Vikings, also dismissed the importance of the airport updating to the stadium plan, and said it would help "only in residual kinds of ways." Still, he said the airport would be "a convenient place" for team owners, fans and the media on game days.
Stadium critics have similar views. "It might have just been a little icing on the cake," Mary Capra, Centerville's mayor and a stadium plan opponent, said of the airport renovation's appeal to the Vikings. "I don't believe it was initiated just for the Vikings."
The county's aggressive pursuit of the upgrade was rooted in its frustration with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which oversees the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and six small, reliever airports in the Twin Cities metro area. While MAC had long listed the Anoka County-Blaine updating as a priority, little had happened. "The project kept on getting pushed back," said Gary Schmidt, MAC's director of the reliever airports.
In a funding arrangement proposed by the county about two years ago, Anoka County not only committed as much as $15 million in general obligation bonds toward the project but also successfully lobbied in Washington, D.C., to obtain a $2.5 million federal grant. In addition, the MAC agreed to lease 40 acres of the airport to the county, which in turn subleased the land to a private company to kick-start the building of new hangars.
Without their financial intervention, county officials said, the upgrade would not have happened. "[We were worried that] we're going to be waiting another 10 years, and we still won't have anything done," said Jon Olson, Anoka County's manager of public services. The upgrade's most important features include the just-completed extension of the east-west runway from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet and installing an instrument landing and approach lighting system. Others, however, have concerns that the airport's activity does not yet justify all the attention. "It's probably 10 years too soon," said Richard Cross, the president of Cirrus Flight Operations, a longtime fixed-based operator at the airport. And Cross said that despite what county officials have said, the improvements were likely made with the Vikings in mind.
"I'm sure that's what a lot of that was about, or at least that was my belief," he said.
Mike Kaszuba â€¢ 612-673-4388 â€¢ [email protected]
Re: Going long to pull in a deal with the Vikings
I think this deal is getting better everyday:)
Re: Going long to pull in a deal with the Vikings
every time i here about the new stadium my mouth get all watery i'd like to see something done so we all know it's finished.
i'd be happy as soon as they start building something just make sure it's in Minnesota.