Vikings warming to idea of staying in Minneapolis

After months of insisting that Arden Hills is the team's preferred site for a new Vikings stadium, it appears ownership is warming to the idea of staying in downtown Minneapolis.

During meetings with state political leaders yesterday, owner Zygi Wilf reportedly displayed maps showing how a new stadium would fit at a site near the Basilica of St. Mary or at the so-called Farmers Market site near Target Field.

Wilf's decision to flash those maps comes less than a month after Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president and spokesman for the team's stadium drive, told reporters that "Arden Hills remains our preferred site." Apparently over the holidays the team's political calculus changed.

Assuming a non-tax-increase funding mechanism can be figured out -- and there has been little news on that front in recent weeks -- there are four possible sites for a new stadium, three in downtown Minneapolis and the other out in the suburbia of Arden Hills.

The least expensive of the four would involve simply tearing down the 30-year-old Metrodome and building a new stadium on that property while the team plays at TCF Stadium. The tentative price-tag for that project is $895 million -- not chump change, but at least it's less than a bill.

The Basilica and Farmers Market sites both clock in right around $1.04 billion, which is a bit less than the $1.1 billion or so it could cost to build the stadium in Arden Hills.

With the Vikings' Metrodome lease expiring following last Sunday's season-ending home loss to the Bears and the new legislative session less than three weeks away, time is running short for the team and political leaders to figure out whether, where, and how to build a new stadium.

After all, there's still plenty of time to manufacture L.A. Vikes merchandise with time to spare before the 2012 NFL season, and without a lease the team is now technically free to move wherever the hell Zygi wants.

Zygi, however, expressed optimism following Tuesday's meeting about the prospect of a deal getting done soon here in Minnesota. An AP report quoted him as saying that state leaders are "very encouraged on the progress we're making." He added that he and brother Mark Wilf "feel that a deal is going to be in the works shortly."

Legislators, meanwhile, appear to be sitting on their hands while discussions like the one Tuesday between Zygi and state leaders are ongoing.

An MPR report from Monday notes that "after a decade of pushing to resolve the stadium debate, the Vikings don't sound much closer to their goal," then quotes State Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead and a stadium supporter, as saying:

We're waiting for some additional information to come back from Ramsey County, from the team, and from the city of Minneapolis so that we can evaluate, in effect, their last best offer. We need to know ... how far each of them are willing to go.

Ted Mondale, Dayton's lead stadium negotiator, said last week that stadium supporters hoped to finally choose a site by mid-January. Then, presumably, serious conversations will begin about how to pay for the damn thing.

In any event, unless Zygi has been bluffing in his insistence that the Vikings won't play another game at the Metrodome without an agreement for a new stadium in place, serious conversations about a site and funding need to start happening soon. Otherwise, Minnesota sports fans may need to to find other ways to get their professional football fix come next fall.

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