Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday signed off on a hard-fought agreement to build the Minnesota Vikings a $975 million stadium at the downtown Minneapolis site of the team's current home, the Metrodome.
Dayton, who championed the deal, signed the bill to mostly cheers, whistles and chants of 'Skol Vikings," the team's fight song, during a Capitol ceremony attended by team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, business and labor leaders, construction workers and fans of the purple and gold.
"This is what makes Minnesota special," Dayton said before signing the bill, noting that Minneapolis-St. Paul is the smallest of a dozen metropolitan areas with teams from all four major sports leagues.
There was strong opposition to the deal by some taxpayers and elected officials, who argued that the public shouldn't have to shoulder most of the costs of paying for a new stadium for a privately-owned and profitable sports team. About a dozen opponents voiced their displeasure on Monday, briefly delaying the proceedings by heckling the governor and waving signs with messages such as, "Let the rich pay for the stadium." After Dayton put pen to paper, one protester shouted "Shame on you! Shame on you!
The Vikings hope to move into their new home by 2016, and will sign a 30-year lease to play there. The team will pay just under half the cost of the $975 million construction project, with the state and city of Minneapolis paying the rest.
State lawmakers approved the bill last week out of concern that the team might leave Minnesota unless it got a new stadium. The stadium legislation appeared to have died in a committee until NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell flew to St. Paul in late April to stress the importance the league placed on getting a deal done.
The business and labor contingent attended the ceremony in a nod to the thousands of construction jobs Dayton touted as he pushed for the stadium. Workers in hardhats and some Vikings fans were there too, but not in the numbers they showed in the days leading up to the bill's passage by the Legislature.
Dayton's signature isn't the last formality for the stadium. The Minneapolis City Council must give final approval to its share of the cost, with a vote expected later this month. The city is redirecting an existing hospital tax to pay its share, while the state will cover its own through taxes on new electronic versions of pulltabs, a low-tech paper game sold by charitable organizations in bars and restaurants.
The Wilfs have already begun mulling the stadium design. Zygi Wilf's fondness for outdoor football is well known, and in an interview with The Associated Press last week he appeared to be leaning toward a retractable roof that could restore a wintry element to Vikings games that was lost when the team left old Metropolitan Stadium for the Metrodome in 1982. The team would have to pay the cost of such a roof, and it's not clear how much that would be.
The Wilfs said they wanted a plaza with plenty of open space for fans to gather.
"We promise that we will work together to build a first-class facility, one that we can all be proud of for generations," Mark Wilf said at the signing.
The Vikings pursued a new stadium for more than a decade, but had little leverage until their Metrodome lease expired in February after the season ended. The Wilfs never threatened to move the team, but the Vikings were frequently mentioned as a potential fit for the Los Angeles market, which does not have an NFL franchise.