Vikings pull plug on talks of an on-campus stadium

Brad Unangst

Citing too many problems with a proposed stadium site, the Minnesota Vikings have pulled the plug on negotiations with the University to build a stadium on the Minneapolis campus.

Vikings Executive Vice President Mike Kelly said the site – where the Huron Boulevard Parking Complex currently sits – is too small and isolated to meet the professional team’s financial needs.

The 32-acre site is surrounded by University athletics facilities and other buildings, which limits the space for pregame activities like tailgating, Kelly added.

“We need a good piece of land to develop this facility,” Kelly said.

Besides the size of the site, Kelly said it would cost $107 million to improve traffic and access issues associated with the 68,500-seat campus stadium.

The stadium site also was to have approximately 2,700 parking spaces – far fewer than the originally proposed 4,000 spaces – and conflicts with other University events could constrain parking further. The study concluded that nearly 50 percent of fans would have to arrive by public transit.

“That’s not workable by anyone’s standards,” Kelly said.

Other issues Kelly identified were the increased pollution cleanup costs associated with the site and the objections of University community members to an NFL-sized stadium on campus.

“There is obviously significant opposition from neighborhood groups, University faculty and University graduate and other student groups,” Kelly said.

For University officials, the Vikings decision ends nearly two years of work on the project, but they say they are not bitter about wasted time.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the University learned the site could support a smaller-sized stadium but added there are no plans for a Gophers-only stadium to be built on the site.

He also called Kelly’s description of the limitations “fair,” but said the deal hinged on stadium revenue and operations for the Vikings.

The University did not want the stadium to be used for non-game day activities; the Vikings said they were necessary to increase revenue streams.

“We weren’t interested in seeing the stadium used on a full-time basis. It just doesn’t work on that site with all the other activities we have going on,” he said. “They felt that hurt the revenue streams of the stadium.”

While Pfutzenreuter did not rule out a continued partnership with the Vikings, he said the University will take some time to review the process. If the Legislature should hold discussions on building the stadium on a new site, the University will be involved, Pfutzenreuter said.

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, said the Legislature could require that the two camps get back into a working partnership to find a suitable site for a joint-use stadium if they are to use public funding.

“I think the Legislature would still be inclined to think that a football stadium should be joint-use, rather than thinking about the possibility of building three stadiums,” he said.

Both sides characterized their partnership as positive – even working through a retraction of a $100 million-capital contribution from the Vikings – but were unable to complete a stadium predesign and reach an agreement on the stadium’s operation.

University Board of Regents Chairwoman Maureen Reed said it was too early to speculate how the Vikings decision will impact the University’s stadium plans.

“But maybe it’s time to start thinking about it,” she said.

The Gophers Metrodome lease expires in 2011. Stadium consultants said any new stadium will take five years to build.

Joel Maturi, Univeristy athletics director, said he hopes today’s announcement will open the door for returning the Gophers football team to campus, even if it means the University has to build its own stadium.

“I truly believe Gophers football belongs back on campus, and we could use this in a positive way,” he said.

University President Robert Bruininks was unavailable for comment.

The University has been involved in the early stages of talks concerning building a Gophers-only stadium but nothing has evolved from them, University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said.

“The University is here and ready to talk about a variety of options,” he said.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]