Vikings, U discuss joint stadium

Erin Ghere

University officials have agreed to talk with the Minnesota Vikings about the possibility of a new Twin Cities football stadium.
Although University Men’s Athletics Director Tom Moe has met with Vikings Vice President Mike Kelly several times to discuss the issue, including a meeting last Wednesday, the University has been reluctant to commit to a stadium plan.
But in a letter sent to 200 people — including alumni, donors, city officials, campus neighbors, legislators and the governor — the University acknowledged accepting the Vikings’ invitation to look at the feasibility of the project. Currently the two teams share the 18-year old Metrodome with the Minnesota Twins and have leases there past 2010.
University and Vikings officials say they need a new stadium to generate increased revenues which the two teams need, as well as returning a college feel to Gophers football. Both Moe and football coach Glen Mason have pushed for an on-campus stadium.
Minnesota is currently the only Big Ten team without its own stadium. Mason said in a press conference this summer that it is one of the team’s needs.
In addition, Vikings officials said earlier this year that the team needs 4,400 more seats and a 10 percent increase in the number of sideline seats to stay competitive.
Sandra Gardebring, vice president for University Relations, said no matter what is decided, the University wants to be part of the discussion.
“If the Gophers were to play there,” she said, “it would very much need a university look and feel.”
Gardebring added, “We gave that up when Memorial Stadium was taken down. There are lots of folks who feel that was a real loss in the way football contributes to the feeling on campus.”
The Gophers began playing in the Metrodome in 1982; their former home, Memorial Stadium, was leveled in 1992. The University Aquatic Center now stands in its place.
Along with Moe, Mason has emphasized the need for an on-campus stadium, both for the benefit of the team and the University community.
“I really think the University of Minnesota is missing the boat,” Mason said at an August press conference. “I’m not just talking about what it does to your football program, but there is nothing else that acts as a vehicle to bring people back to your campus every year.”
He also said if the University was located anywhere else, it would have its own stadium.
“If the University of Minnesota wasn’t located in the Twin Cities, let’s say it was located in St. Cloud or Duluth or Mankato or wherever, what would we have? We’d have a 70,000-seat stadium on campus.”
The Gophers have a lease at the Metrodome through 2011, and the Vikings have one through 2012. Still, Vikings officials hope the University will like the idea of a joint venture.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to convince the University that we’re going to be a good partner and that we can work together to find a successful solution for both of us,” Kelly said.
But the University is also looking at other options, Gardebring said.
Possibilities include refurbishing the Metrodome or building a Gophers-only stadium.
But the latter option faces a lack of on-campus space, Gardebring said.
In addition, she said the Gophers and Vikings have many differences they would have to overcome.
“We like grass, they like turf. We want an outdoor stadium. I would think they want to be able to play when it’s 10 degrees in January,” Gardebring explained. “They need a 65,000 to 70,000-seat stadium. What would be optimal for us is somewhat smaller than that.”
Mason also said in August that the Gophers might decide not to team up with the Vikings.
“Just because we’re in the Twin Cities and the Vikings are here, we have to share a stadium? It doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.
Still, the University doesn’t want to be left out of the discussion, Gardebring said.
But Kelly said a joint stadium would solve two problems with one solution, and the Vikings are willing to go where the Gophers prefer.
Even if the two agree, there are still more hoops to jump through. A new stadium would almost certainly need state funding, and the Legislature has been less than enthusiastic about that idea in the past.
In addition, University President Mark Yudof has said he would not go to the Legislature for the bonding money when the University already has another $1 billion in long-term building needs.
Any stadium bonds would have to be supported by alumni contributions and stadium revenues, officials have said.
Typically, 75 percent of funding for new NFL stadiums comes from the public. The remaining 25 percent is paid for by private investors and owners.
But at least through the last legislative session, state lawmakers have been unwilling to discuss public financing. The next session begins in January.
— The Associated Press and staff reporters Mike Wereschagin, John R. Carter and David LaVaque contributed to this report.
Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected]