University sets ultimatum on joint stadium proposal

U By Brad Unangst and Paul Sand

university officials said Thursday that if the Gophers and the Minnesota Vikings do not reach an agreement on a proposed on-campus joint football stadium by Nov. 27, the multimillion-dollar project will not go forward.

Meanwhile, a majority of the University Faculty Senate, along with a handful of Student Senate representatives, displayed overwhelming opposition to a new stadium in their monthly meeting held Thursday.

The November deadline is the last day docket material can be mailed to the University’s Board of Regents, which is scheduled to vote on the stadium at its December meeting.

The regents must approve the shared stadium project before it goes to the Legislature in December.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter, who is leading the University’s stadium team along with General Counsel Mark Rotenberg, said negotiations with the Vikings on a memorandum of understanding have been moving slowly as the deadline nears.

“It’s got to be done, or we’re not moving forward,” Pfutzenreuter said. “We’ll already be past the Dec. 1 deadline that the law required and I’m not going to short the public or the (r egents) on that document and put it the day before or the day of that meeting.”

In spring 2002, the Legislature set the Dec. 1 deadline for the University and the Vikings to complete and submit new stadium predesign and a memorandum of understanding.

The memorandum would establish guidelines for the shared use of the stadium, field and facilities. It could also determine who will be responsible for paying for the stadium’s maintenance and improvement.

Rotenberg, who is managing the team of consultants negotiating with the Vikings, said he is very concerned about the short timeframe and admitted he is unsure if an agreement can be reached.

“The jury is still out,” Rotenberg said.

Vikings stadium consultant Lester Bagley said he was unaware of the Nov. 27 deadline. But he said even though memorandum negotiations are just starting, he believes talks are on track.

“It’s premature to say anything other than that,” Bagley said.

Officials from both sides said the slow negotiations are not a sign of trouble, but are typical given the importance of the new stadium.

Both sides said issues of revenue sharing, control of stadium operations and parking are still being worked out.

“There are certain things each side wants clarification on from the other. We just have to keep pursuing what we need and they’re going to keep pursuing what they need,” Rotenberg said last week.

Work on the stadium predesign is expected to be completed on time, Pfutzenreuter said.

In May the Legislature earmarked $500,000 in Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission funding for the completion of a predesign and the memorandum.

Initial designs called for a 68,500-seat, multi-use stadium to be built on the Huron Boulevard Parking Complex on the East Bank at a cost of $440 million to $500 million. Event seating could be expanded to 70,000 to accommodate a Super Bowl, or lowered to 50,000 for Gophers games.

Vikings owner Red McCombs would contribute $100 million for construction, with the NFL adding approximately $50 million. That deal will expire in March 2003 if no stadium agreement is reached.

The remaining cost of construction would be funded by the state. The Legislature is expected to decide this session whether to approve a stadium.

Charles Speaks, Faculty Senate Finance and Planning Committee chairman, said the proposed plan will not help the University.

“I believe the mission of the Vikings is incompatible with the mission of the University,” he said.

Speaks said the stadium’s size and how it fits into the University’s landscape is of great concern. The stadium would take up a space equivalent to four downtown blocks and would be 200 feet tall – a height which would rival the East Bank’s Phillips-Wangensteen medical building, he said.

Vikings owner Red McCombs’ threats to move the team if a new stadium isn’t built, Speaks said, should not sway the University’s decision on the proposed construction.

“The fear that the Vikings will leave town if they don’t get a stadium is not something that should be passed along to the University to be solved,” he said.

Others, including Melissa Williams of the Council of Graduate Students, expressed disapproval of the proposed stadium. Williams said she had spoken with a Vikings representative who would not answer how the stadium would academically benefit the University’s graduate students.

“Quite frankly, most of us can’t afford a ticket,” she said. “You know what we make.”

Dan Feeney, Faculty Consultative Committee chairman, said that as the deadline approaches for the memorandum from the Vikings and the University, students and staff need to voice their opinions.

“Our back is not to the wall yet, but it’s close,” he said.

Feeney also said he is concerned with how the stadium will alter perceptions of University funding within the Legislature.

“We do not want this counted against academic endeavors,” Feeney said.

Vikings officials said the stadium proposal will address those concerns and discussion about them is also premature.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected] and Paul Sand is at [email protected]