Published April 20, 2012
ST. PAUL, Minn. – A professional football void in Los Angeles came up during an urgent meeting Friday between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Minnesota lawmakers who have struggled to pass a financing package to build a new Vikings stadium.
Goodell, Gov. Mark Dayton and others in the hour-long meeting said there were no threats that the Vikings would head west, but it was part of a push to jumpstart a stalled stadium debate in Minnesota.
"They were here basically to say, 'This is it folks,'" Dayton said.
A simmering movement to put a franchise in Los Angeles came up in the discussion at the prompting of lawmakers, Dayton said.
Sen. Julie Rosen, a Republican sponsoring the stadium bill, said legislative leaders heard that Los Angeles is an option, even if there was no explicit threat.
"There is no ultimatum, but we did clearly talk about L.A. We did clearly talk about that is an open market," Rosen said. She added, "It was good to hear from the NFL and from a very prominent owner that they do have the right to move or be sold. For us it was good to get everyone on the same page saying this is the year that it needs to be done and we need to move forward."
Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, chairman of league's stadium committee, was also on hand to turn up the pressure just days after a proposed $975 million stadium failed in a key committee.
Afterward, most who were in the room said the need to act is urgent.
"There were no light threats or any threats at all," Goodell said. "What we talked about is the importance of creating a solution here that works for the team, that works for the community. This isn't a new issue. It's been discussed here for several years. I think the legislative leaders and the governor understand the time is now."
The Vikings have sought a replacement for the Metrodome for more than a decade, and although they will play next season in the Dome, their lease has expired.
Dayton has pushed for a stadium deal for months, saying the state is at risk of moving the team. Goodell said he simply talked about the team's importance to Minnesota.
"They are frustrated, but they are committed to this community and want to be here," Goodell said of the Vikings, who did not have a representative at the meeting.
For Goodell, the personal touch followed phone conversations earlier this week with Dayton about the status of the legislation.
Under the plan, the Vikings would pay $427 million of the construction costs for the new stadium, which would be built on the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis. City and state taxpayers would be on the hook for the other $548 million — or 56 percent of the total cost.
Dayton said the state leaders didn't ask league officials to enhance the private contribution in the financing package. Dayton said the NFL delegation ran through a league loan program that could give the team access to up to $200 million, but it has long been believed franchise owners had figured that money into their calculations.
"This is a two-minute drill and things will have to be moving a bit more quickly," said Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who declined to guarantee an up-or-down vote this year.
The plan awaited action later Friday in a Senate committee where the proposal stalled more than a month ago. The lead Senate Democrat, Tom Bakk, said his caucus would provide the needed votes to dislodge it. Bakk said the stadium puzzle gets even tougher next year, when another projected budget deficit is the main focus and with the anticipated heavy member turnover after November's election.
No move is permissible or practical this year, but there's always 2013. The Vikings are no longer legally bound by a lease to stay here. They've been contacted before by two separate groups trying to lure a team and build a stadium in Los Angeles but have said, for now, they're not interested in selling.