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Vikings: 'U' stadium site won't work
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The Vikings' proposal for a stadium included a retractable roof, and was designed to have a collegiate look and feel on Saturdays and the ability to scale up to an NFL-caliber stadium on Sundays. (Courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)
The Minnesota Vikings are rejecting a campus site proposed for a joint stadium with the University of Minnesota Gophers. The announcement comes just days before a deadline for the Vikings and the U to submit a joint stadium proposal to lawmakers. Vikings officials say the site is too small, too isolated, and does not have the parking or traffic infrastructure to support the NFL team's needs. University officials say their goal is to bring Gopher football back to campus. While they say they are open to continuing negotiations with the Vikings, they say they will explore the option of a Gophers-only stadium.

Eden Prairie, Minn. — Last session, lawmakers set aside $500,000 for a design study and an operating agreement between the Vikings and the university.

But in recent weeks, disagreements from both sides have been emerging. First, university officials were concerned when the Vikings refused to commit to a specific dollar contribution.

Now the Vikings are rejecting a campus site that's been the subject of the negotiations for months.

Executive Vice President Mike Kelly says the site at University Ave., and across Oak St., from Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena, is unworkable because it is too small and too isolated. He says the parking and infrastructure just isn't there.

"The problem with it is, it has to be big enough, and it has to have the roads that can allow people to get to it and leave. It doesn't do us any good to build a terrific facility and subject the university campus to gridlock," he said.

Kelly says he was surprised that the site ultimately is not going to work. He says the Vikings will continue to talk with the university about an acceptable joint stadium deal.

But university officials say the site can work, and it could be the only spot available on the densely built-up Minneapolis campus.

The university's chief financial officer, Richard Pfutzenreuter said in a press conference that apart from the NFL team rejecting the campus site, there are even more sticking points in the Vikings negotiations.

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Image U of M news conference

"They're concerned about many aspects of the site in terms of how it plays into the revenue stream. Everything from naming rights -- perhaps it can't be named the same things on this campus that it might be named in a cornfield on the edge of the Twin Cities. Perhaps there's more revenue there, I don't know, but there were business reasons that they rejected the site," he said.

University officials and community members have questioned whether a 365-day-a-year NFL entertainment venue on campus is compatible with the university's academic mission.

University officials say their singular goal in this deal is to return Gopher football to campus.

University lawyer Mark Rotenberg says going it alone without the Vikings is an option the school is exploring.

"We're aware of discussions about that. We're participants in those kinds of discussions. Right now, our mission was to negotiate in good faith with the Vikings on a joint use stadium. That's what the legislation said we should do. That's what we tried to do. The Vikings for their own reasons chose to pull the plug on that particular proposal," Rotenberg said.

But working with the Vikings may be the only way to bring Gophers football back on campus. Lawmakers have made it clear they're not interested in considering more than one new stadium.

Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty says the university and the Vikings need to work things out before taking up lawmakers' time and energy to decide the fate of a joint stadium.

"I think that partnership offers some hope and they should continue to work on it. But we're not going to allow this to consume the legislative session. We've got bigger issues than this, and that needs to be dealt with first and foremost. And if they're going to fuss and mess too much and try to turn this into a circus, I'm not going to let that happen," Pawlenty said.

Lawmakers had set a Dec. 1 deadline for the two parties.

The Vikings' Mike Kelly says the good news for lawmakers is that pre-design studies show a joint stadium can work.

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