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Little appetite for stadium talk at Capitol, despite sale of Vikings
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Sketch of proposed Vikings stadium. (Minnesota Vikings)
Reggie Fowler may have struck a tentative deal to buy the Minnesota Vikings, but that doesn't mean he'll be so lucky at the state Capitol. The Vikings have been seeking state support to build a $600 million football stadium for the past several years. So far those efforts have all failed, and lawmakers say a change in ownership is not likely to shift the dynamics.

St. Paul, Minn. — Fowler and current team owner Red McCombs didn't disclose the team's sale price -- but it's been widely reported to exceed $600 million, an amount that likely anticipates a revenue-producing new football stadium in the team's future.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says if that's the case, someone could come to regret it.

"I just hope that somebody isn't making a market decision to buy the team for a significant amount of money based on the idea or the fact that the Legislature's going to pass a stadium funding bill. That wouldn't be a very wise market decision," he said.

The Vikings, the Minnesota Twins and the University of Minnesota Gopher football team are all seeking new stadiums, arguing the Metrodome doesn't provide the amenities or revenues necessary to survive. Sviggum has said he expects a Twins bill to pass this year, and the Gopher project has fairly broad bipartisan support. But Sviggum says a Vikings deal is unlikely due to the higher costs of an NFL stadium.

Rep. Andy Westerberg, R-Blaine, who represents the leading host city for a Vikings stadium, says despite legislative reluctance, he'll introduce legislation in the House to split the facility's cost three ways between Anoka County, the team and the state. And he says it's unfortunate that some lawmakers are giving priority to the Twins and the Gophers.

It's basically a five-year plan wherever you build it, whether it's Anoka or Portland, Oregon, or Las Vegas; Montreal, Canada, or wherever it is.
- Steve Novak

"Unfortunately that's the way they're stacking up and the Vikings are put at the end because they're on the lease to 2011. But it's extremely imperative that we get them to consider all three teams at the same time and get a deal done. And we're going to be trying to do that," he said.

Fowler declined to comment on what stadium ambition he might harbor, other than to say he recognizes the political challenges. But Anoka County officials say they're ready to move forward with the new prospective owner.

Steve Novak, who leads the county's stadium efforts, says the 2011 termination date on the Vikings lease is closer than it seems once lawmakers factor in the time necessary for design and construction. The question is not, he says, whether the team will play at the Metrodome through the end of its lease.

"It's a question of whether they'll be playing there as they're building a stadium to move some place else. It's basically a five-year plan wherever you build it, whether it's Anoka or Portland, Oregon, or Las Vegas; Montreal, Canada, or wherever it is," according to Novak.

Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has also expressed an interest in buying the Vikings and has said he's waiting in the wings if Fowler's bid falls through. At least one top lawmaker says Taylor may have an advantage in the stadium debate.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson says Taylor, who also served in the state Senate, can rely on his Minnesota roots and personal connections.

"Glen Taylor would have an advantage. He knows the legislative process. He knows the players. He knows the governor. Mr. Fowler really starts at much of a disadvantage simply not being from Minnesota. But he'd have to play catch-up," according to Johnson.

Fowler, however, has said he plans to move to Minnesota if his Vikings bid wins approval from the league, a decision that could come by the end of next month. Meanwhile, the state's other big stadium player says it's lying low for now.

Twins president Dave St. Peter says the team is working behind the scenes on its stadium strategy, but doesn't yet have a new plan to present. St. Peter says the debate becomes more intricate with so many teams at the table.

"There's no question that it complicates matters when you combine Twins and Vikings and the University of Minnesota," St. Peter said.

The Twins are seeking a roughly $400 million ballpark to be built in Minneapolis or St. Paul. The Gophers want a $235 million on-campus stadium, with 60 percent of the cost to come from the school or private sources. So far, the Gophers are the only team with a bill before the Legislature.