Despite recent media reports, no joint stadium deal yet

by Brad Unangst

University officials said they were surprised by newspaper reports saying they are close to a stadium agreement with the Minnesota Vikings with the deadline only days away.

University and Vikings officials met several times last week but were unable to complete an agreement. The deadline is Wednesday.

On Saturday, Sandra Gardebring, Vice President for University Relations, told a group of alumni that negotiations are not going well.

The issues causing problems include the stadium’s physical structure and revenue sharing. But a Vikings’ capital contribution is not as big of an issue as has been reported, Gardebring said.

“It doesn’t look good,” she said.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg acknowledged Thursday that both sides have issues to be resolved and said he is worried a deal might not pan out at all.

“I don’t know if we can get it done in the little time remaining,” Rotenberg said.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, University chief financial officer, said he thinks a decision on the stadium could be reached as soon as today but added the approaching deadline could affect the deal.

“Something’s got to happen on Monday,” he said. “We’re watching the clock.”

Vikings officials were unavailable for comment.

The Vikings are concerned that the site – surrounded by University buildings to the east, west, south and railroad tracks to the north – would not support the type of events that are currently held outside the Metrodome on game days. They are also worried that an estimated 40 percent to 50 percent of fans coming to a Vikings game would have to be shuttled in from parking lots away from the stadium, Gardebring said.

The University has many concerns about the on-campus stadium, including the size and look of the project.

Current projections have the new stadium covering more ground than the Metrodome and seating more than 68,000 fans for Vikings games. It would sit on the Huron Boulevard parking complex near Mariucci and Williams arenas.

“It would dominate the Minneapolis campus, not just this end of the campus,” Gardebring said.

The University has also heard concerns from neighborhood and community groups regarding the potential for increased noise, traffic, litter and parking problems associated with an NFL-sized stadium. University faculty and students have raised questions about how the stadium fits with the institution’s academic mission and its financial costs.

The site is also highly polluted, University officials said.

Pfutzenreuter said cleanup costs could reach tens of millions of dollars depending on how deep the stadium is built into in the ground.

Gardebring said both camps could work out the financial issues, but that the physical issues of having a professional-style stadium on campus may be too great to overcome.

“I think there are just some things about the square peg in the round-hole theory,” Gardebring said.

While negotiations on the operational agreement have yet to be completed, the predesign plans are close to finished. Pfutzenreuter said estimated costs are close to $600 million.

Previous designs were closer to $500 million but did not include estimates for transportation systems improvements, utilities and site cleanup.

If that agreement does not come to fruition, the predesign will not be approved.

“We’re not signing off on a predesign or (a memorandum of understanding) separately. They cannot be separated,” Pfutzenreuter said.

But University officials said their efforts will not be wasted if the proposed partnership fails.

Communities that have weighed in have said they value Gophers football and see the site fit for a football stadium, Pfutzenreuter said.

Recent newspaper reports have said the University is pursuing options to build its own stadium for the Gophers.

Both Rotenberg and Pfutzenreuter denied those claims, but added things can change as the negotiations move forward.

“If it doesn’t work out, then we’ll explore other alternatives,” Rotenberg said.

The predesign information could be used for a smaller stadium on the site at a cost of approximately $200 to $250 million, Pfutzenreuter said.

But whether it will be used is another question.

“There will be plenty of time to talk about it at another time,” Rotenberg said.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]