New stadium depends on Vikings commitment

Brad Unangst

CROOKSTON, Minn. – University officials said Thursday the Vikings must commit to staying in Minnesota or devise a contingency payment plan before a deal can be brokered for a joint on-campus stadium with the Gophers.

In the first formal stadium talks in more than a year, members of the University’s Board of Regents stressed at their September meeting they don’t want the school to be left out to dry financially should the Vikings be sold or move.

“You have to protect yourself in the event that something like that occurs,” said University Interim President Robert Bruininks. “The agreement also has to be with the state of Minnesota. Ö The Vikings have to make a considerable commitment to stay, and the financial model would have to hold us harmless if that changes.”

Some regents were also concerned about the Viking’s interest in including executive suites, a retractable roof and alcohol sales. That led the board to establish a set of principles that will be used when drafting the memorandum of understanding – an agreement on the operations, management and use of the stadium.

Both University and Vikings officials said reaching an agreement won’t be a problem.

“All those things will work themselves out as we get closer (to completing the memorandum of understanding),” said Vikings vice president of finance Steve Poppen.

In creating the principles, regents said the stadium must advance the academic mission of the University, increase revenue, improve the community and enhance the football experience on campus.

The board also said the University must retain control over the stadium’s design and development.

“It is unlikely the board will approve anything that doesn’t meet those principles,” Chairwoman Maureen Reed said.

A completed memorandum of understanding and conceptual pre-design will be presented to the state Legislature in December.

While predesign plans are already underway, work on the memorandum has only begun. And officials agree it will be the most challenging piece.

The University has hired the legal firms Piper Rudnick and Gray Plant Mooty to help with the negotiations. Piper Rudnick negotiated leases for the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Bengals and Reds and the Oakland Athletics. Counselors for Gray Plant Mooty have represented the University on matters related to its lease on the Metrodome.

Regent David Metzen said the University’s negotiating position is strong because the state won’t fund a Vikings-only stadium.

“We’re in a perfect position to negotiate,” he said. “The Vikings can’t get there without us.”

Regent Frank Berman said since the Vikings stand to gain the most from a stadium, the team should assume all of the financial risk.

Under the last Vikings proposal, a 68,500-seat stadium would be constructed on the Huron Boulevard Parking complex at an estimated $440 million. The NFL and Vikings would contribute approximately $150 million to the project, leaving the state to fund the rest. Besides supplying the site, the University would be responsible for building two parking ramps at an estimated $60 million.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said while the cost estimates stadium’s may change as new designs are completed, the University would not be responsible for any cost overruns or debt service on the stadium.

“The legislation will take care of that,” he said.

Regents also said that given recent tuition increases and the potential dissolution of three athletic teams, the University is not in any position to assume more than approved stadium costs.

Because the stadium will have a substantial impact on not only University students but the community, regents said the University must seek input from both groups.

A steering committee consisting of University and Minneapolis city officials, students and community leaders has already met with neighborhood groups about the stadium.

Brad Unangst covers the Board of Regents and welcomes comments at [email protected].