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U of M may go it alone in stadium chase
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U of M president Robert Bruininks told the Board of Regents the Vikings' rejection of a site across Oak Street from Mariucci Arena makes a Gophers-only stadium an option worth looking at. At left is regent Maureen Reid. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
The University of Minnesota has dropped its plans to pursue a joint football stadium with the Minnesota Vikings in the 2003 legislative session. Instead, university officials say they'll take a long, hard look at building their own smaller facility to bring Gopher football back to the campus.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The 2002 Legislature allocated $500,000 for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Vikings to study the feasibility of a joint, on-campus football stadium. A predesign and memorandum of understanding were due back to lawmakers by the end of the year. But Vikings officials announced last month they would not accept the proposed site for a $600 million project near Mariucci Arena because it's too small to suit their needs.

U of M President Bob Bruininks says the university worked diligently on the project as a way to bring football back to the campus, increase revenues for intercollegiate athletics and improve campus transportation systems.

But he told the Board of Regents there were ultimately too many differences of opinion. "It is very difficult in my judgement to bring the goals of a professional entertainment business of the size and scope of the Minnesota Vikings together with the public interest of an academic institution like the University of Minnesota," he said.

Bruininks says the Vikings rejection, along with the state's $4.6 billion dollar budget deficit, makes this a bad time to pursue stadium legislation. He says he wants the university to instead step back and take a look at all of its options. Specifically, Bruininks wants to study building a Gophers-only stadium on the same site for a significantly lower price.

"A Gopher-only collegiate campus stadium is smaller. There's no reason given it's shorter season why it can't be an open air stadium. It clearly has a much smaller footprint. So, I think it has the advantage of being less intrusive in the area," Bruininks said.

The Golden Gophers left Memorial Stadium 20 years ago to play football at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. The team plays rent-free, but gets no financial benefit from luxury boxes, advertising or parking. The university is under lease to play there through 2011.

Bruininks says efforts to bring football back to the campus have gained broad support from alumni and student organizations.

Student representative to the board Allison Rhody shared some recently gathered opinions with university regents. "There is definitely a strong desire to have Gopher football back on campus," she said. "Along with this there were concerns about traffic, parking and overall campus atmosphere implications that would result in a joint venture with the Vikings. Building a Gophers-only stadium satisfies the want and extinguishes any concerns in this area."

University Regent Richard "Pinky" McNamara, who played halfback for the Gophers in the 1950s, says he thinks the university should go its own way on the stadium. He says there's plenty of time to work out the details.

"We've got nine more years in the dome, and that ain't all bad," McNamara said. "And a lot of things can happen to professional teams that come and go. And so I think it will all shake out the way it's supposed to." Supporters of a joint-stadium project will likely continue to push the concept. A newly proposed location is in St. Paul along state Highway 280, near the city's border with Minneapolis. The site is halfway between the university's Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses.

University President Bruininks says he doesn't know much about the plan, but he's heard negative reports about the site. "That site has many, many problems associated with it: environmental, it's owned by many owners, it faces the same infrastrauture challenges that we would face here on campus and perhaps more," he said. Minnesota Vikings Executive Vice President Mike Kelly did not return a phone call for this story. He told the St. Paul Pioneer Press the latest site proposal would have a lot of political appeal because it's a metro location and close to campus.

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