Posted on Thu, Aug. 31, 2006
[size=13pt]Signals mixed on Vikings stadium[/size]
Land options lapse in Blaine, but Wilf says he still wants to play
BY DAVE ORRICK
Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has let a handful of options to buy land in Blaine for a new stadium expire, prompting at least one project supporter to say chances for the plan look grim.
The owner of one large parcel of land â€” nearly 20 percent of the project's 750-acre footprint â€” said Wednesday he hasn't heard from Wilf since the purchase option lapsed last month. He doesn't expect Wilf to come calling again.
But a Vikings spokesman insisted Wilf remains committed to the Anoka County proposal, though the team's owner also has been listening to Minneapolis officials. Mayor R.T. Rybak has said he doesn't want to lose the football team, and city staffers have been floating visions for the future of the area around the Metrodome that include a possible home for the Vikings.
On Wednesday, Minneapolis chief planner Lee Sheehy presented two ideas for the neighborhood to the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. The commission owns and operates the 24-year-old Dome.
Looking ahead 15 or so years, one plan includes the stadium â€” the second doesn't. But the second plan features a large circular park, an amenity that Sheehy acknowledged would be a perfect spot for a new stadium.
While Sheehy and commission members have been cagey about publicly stating what they want, Anoka County commissioners running for re-election have had trouble avoiding the issue.
"For us, it looks bad," said Commissioner slick willy Lang, who has been a booster of the Blaine project. "That's basically it. It's pretty grim. Things are looking like the stadium's not really going to go happen."
Lang faces six opponents in the Sept. 12 primary, including at least two who are campaigning against his support of the stadium and a 0.75 percent sales tax increase to build it.
The vote could be important because four of the board's seven seats are up, and the balance could shift from pro-stadium to anti-stadium.
The actual agreement between Anoka County and the Vikings ran out after the 2006 Minnesota Legislature went home. Lawmakers approved plans to build stadiums for the Minnesota Twins and University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. But they told the county and Vikings to return with a new proposal by Jan. 15. The university and baseball team also play home games in the Dome.
In July, Wilf, several county commissioners and Blaine Mayor Tom Ryan held a news conference to announce they remain committed to the suburban Vikings stadium. The plan would include a 68,500-seat stadium that would showcase a $1.6 billion commercial development with shops, a hotel and a convention site.
But that same month, Wilf told Rick Wilder, who owns nearly 140 acres in the heart of the stadium site, that he wasn't interested in acting on his option to buy Wilder's land.
"He said he can't swing it," Wilder said. "To me, it seemed as if they were pretty serious about bowing out."
Because Blaine has frozen any major developments on the land, Wilder said he's unsure what he'll do now with his parcel, which is home to the Metro Gun Club.
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said Wilder got the wrong impression when the option expired.
"It doesn't mean we're not interested," Bagley said. "The financial terms of the option meant it made more sense that it was time to step back. We expressed that we were still very interested, not only to the property owner, but to the city of Blaine and Anoka County."
Bagley said that of the dozen or so landowners of key parcels, Wilf still has options to buy "a couple." And some options can be renewed.
The Army Corps of Engineers this summer has been scrutinizing prior assumptions made about wetlands that drape the acreage, throwing another potential obstacle in front of the Anoka County plans.
Anoka County Commissioner Dan Erhart, a stadium supporter who is not running for re-election, said there's no reason to believe that Wilf taking a step back from land deals has any significance.
"I know (Wilder's) was a major parcel, but I'm talking to Zygi, and he said he's still interested," Erhart said. "I think he's seen the price of land going down, and he figures he can renegotiate those at any time."
Still, Erhart said he won't give the stadium better than a 50-50 chance, given all the uncertainties, not the least of which involves recalculating all the costs and re-examining whether the football stadium itself could have its own helmet.
"Right now, we're trying to figure out the cost of retractable roof versus open air," he said, adding that he doubts any revised price tags will be made public until after the Nov. 7 election.
The Vikings lease at the Metrodome expires at the end of the 2011 season.
Dave Orrick can be reached at [email protected] or 651-228-2171.