MINNEAPOLIS – When Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers announced that the outlines of a new budget deal were in place, the Minnesota Vikings were hoping that the door was finally open to discuss their plan for a new $1 billion stadium in the Twin Cities suburbs.
It may not be quite that simple.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf spoke with Dayton on Friday, telling him in a phone conversation that the team wants a stadium bill to be considered in a special legislative session expected to begin next week, according to Vikings vice president for stadium affairs Lester Bagley.
"He made the case that now is the time," Bagley said. "We've done everything that has been asked of us. It's time to do it. We're down to months left on our lease and every day that goes by, the cost of the project goes up."
A spokeswoman for Dayton said, "The governor is focused on negotiating the final details of the budget at this point."
The Vikings are in the final year of their lease at Mall of America Field, better known as the Metrodome. They have been trying for years to get a new facility that they say will allow them to remain competitive in the NFL and keep them in Minnesota for another generation.
Their effort was put on hold by a government shutdown as the Democratic governor sparred with Republican majorities in the House and Senate on how to resolve the state's $5 billion deficit. On Thursday, they announced that the parameters of an agreement are in place, and Dayton could call a special session to vote on the deal as early as next week.
Wilf and the Vikings are pushing to be included in those talks after, of course, the budget issue is resolved.
"We understand that it's a difficult environment and that people are tired and stressed out over the budget matters," Bagley said. "We're saying that we're ready to sit down and work through the remaining issues."
Several key lawmakers have indicated the team may have to wait for another special session in the fall.
"It hasn't been part of the discussion and, frankly, the main focus in the next couple days is going to be to get these budget bills done," Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch told Minnesota Public Radio.
The Vikings are putting the finishing touches on their plan, which calls for building a new stadium with a retractable roof in Arden Hills to replace the outdated Metrodome, which had its roof collapse during a heavy snowstorm in December. The roof was replaced and inflated this week, ensuring that the building will be ready for the 2011 season, but the Vikings are pushing for a new, state-of-the-art facility that will bring in more money.
Arden Hills is about 10 miles north of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. The new facility would be located at the site of a former Army ammunition plant with plans to open in spring 2015.
Wilf and the Vikings have pledged more than $400 million to the project, which also calls for a half-cent sales tax in Ramsey County that would contribute another $350 million and $300 million in state money.
For now, though, it is still unclear when the Vikings will get a chance to bring their proposal to the table for consideration.
"I think the governor had had a couple of meetings," House Speaker Kurt Zellers told MPR. "For us, it's about getting those bills passed that get the state running again."