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Lawsuit clouds stadium picture for now

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There is certainly reason to react with some skepticism to the news that the opening of the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium could be delayed a year by a lawsuit that has already halted the sale of bonds to finance its construction. These things tend to be heard quickly in court when there are so many jobs on the line, and Minnesota Sports Facilities Association chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen's statement that the lawsuit could throw off the project's timetable might have been made Sunday to put the onus on the Minnesota Supreme Court to move swiftly.

But the fact the MSFA has already halted the bond sale -- and was asking for a resolution by Jan. 23 -- certainly suggests there is some uncertainty about what the lawsuit could mean for the stadium. It is against this backdrop that the Vikings will begin second-round interviews with their coaching candidates this week, and with the Vikings already moving into a temporary home for two years, their stadium situation is sure to be a topic of conversation between prospective coaches and ownership.

Let's say, for a minute, that the Vikings' new stadium was delayed a year. That would mean a third season at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, a more significant amount of time during which the Vikings would have to sell free agents on the idea of playing in the cold and, almost certainly, higher costs for the new stadium. It seems like a virtual certainty the Vikings will make less money at TCF Bank Stadium than they did at the Metrodome, and a delay could further test the patience of ownership. And if the Vikings were intent on this coaching search being their last before they move into their new home, they'd have to give the next man at least four seasons; Brad Childress got 4 1/2, and Leslie Frazier got 3 1/2.

We're skeptical the lawsuit, which argues the bond sale is unconstitutional because Minneapolis residents didn't get to vote on whether the city should use sales taxes to repay the debt, will result in a significant delay in construction. Former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Doug Mann, one of the lawsuit's three petitioners, already had a similar challenge dismissed in Hennepin County court in November, and stadium proponents say issues raised in the lawsuit were already addressed before the bond sale was approved.

But the entire issue clouds one of the factors the Vikings believed played in their favor as they searched for a new coach. When general manager Rick Spielman outlined the benefits of the job after the team fired Frazier on Dec. 30, he was quick to mention the new stadium as one of the biggest perks.

"I think this is a very attractive job," he said. "I think when you talk to people on the outside, that the young talent that we do have on this roster, with all the new stadium and potential facilities coming in, I don’t think we’re in a total rebuilding mode."

The stadium could still turn out to be a boon to the Vikings' next coach, but candidates who come in to talk to the Vikings this week would be wise to do their homework on it. And at the moment, at least, that homework involves asking questions about when the building will open.