Vikings, Twins, Gophers seek practical resolutions to stadium predicament

The Gophers’ lease at the Metrodome expires after the 2011 football season.

Than Tibbetts

Three major sports teams are seeking stadiums in the Twin Cities, and the number of creative solutions proposed by legislators and sports enthusiasts could probably outnumber the bricks needed to build a new bowl.

Among the many stadium scenarios is one in which the Gophers would build a stadium and allow the Minnesota Vikings to play in it while they build a stadium of their own.

“I think it’s a heck of an idea,” Athletics Director Joel Maturi said.

The University’s lease at the Metrodome expires after the Gophers’ 2011 football season, but Gophers officials said they are optimistic they will have a new $235 million on-campus stadium by the 2008 season.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said in December that a Gophers stadium bill would likely pass, and Gophers stadium bills have been introduced in the Senate and House this year.

So far, the Twins and Vikings do not have bills for stadiums in the Legislature this year.

If the Vikings played in the Gophers’ facility, the University athletics department would have another source of revenue by charging rent, parking fees and selling concessions.

Vikings officials said they were less eager to consider the plan.

“It’s unlikely that we would play at a Gophers stadium,” said Tom West, assistant director of public relations for the Vikings. “It wouldn’t be large enough seating capacity.”

If the team were able to finance and build a new stadium, West said, the Vikings would remain in the Metrodome until a new facility would be completed.

He added that they are still considering a stadium site in Blaine, Minn., as the leading option.

A Gophers-Vikings partnership would not be unique. In 2002, the Chicago Bears played their season at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Memorial Stadium.

Illini Associate Athletics Director Dana Brenner said sharing the stadium worked well for the Bears and Illini.

“We made money on it, and it created terrific exposure for our facilities,” he said. “It was a win-win situation all the way around.”

University of Minnesota Senior Associate Athletics Director Elizabeth Eull said that if a professional team – or any other team – were to use an on-campus stadium, the University of Minnesota would charge rent, but she would not speculate on how much it would cost.

Revenue from concessions would be tough to estimate, because alcohol would probably not be sold in a campus facility, she said.

Maturi said he thinks all three teams – the Gophers, Vikings and Twins – need stadiums, though he cautioned that building stadiums is a politically and socially sensitive issue.

“But I think it’s been proven that cities have been vitalized by pro teams,” he said.