Vikings stadium: Sacrifice roof to get deal?

Given the state of political unrest in Minnesota, it's impossible to know when, or if, state leaders will address the Minnesota Vikings' 2011 stadium proposal. But as the team looks for ways to bridge a funding gap, you wonder if at some point the roof -- or at least the retractable portion -- will be put into play.

As you know, the Vikings' initial proposal included plans for a retractable roof, which represented $206 million of the $1.057 billion project. In addition, maintenance on the roof would cost up to $6 million annually.

As a result, the original term sheet reads: "If the Team determines a retractable roof is not economically or otherwise feasible, the Team may decide to develop the Stadium with a fixed roof." It also adds: "The Parties also have agreed that if the State believes the costs specifically associated with constructing and operating a roofed Stadium are too high, the County and the Team are prepared to modify these Principles of Agreement and to proceed with developing a multi-purpose, open-air facility."

Scaling back to a fixed roof would cut roughly $25 million from the total cost of the project, according to team estimates. On the other hand, a fixed roof would make it much more difficult to attract Major League Soccer, which strongly prefers open-air stadiums, and would also quash the team's plan to build a weather-based home-field advantage in the new facility.

I can see this issue both ways. If you're going to spend more than $1 billion on an NFL stadium, why not maximize its utility? After all, the cost of upgrading from a fixed roof to a retractable roof represents less than three percent of the total project cost.

But $25 million is still a big number, especially when the funding gap at this point is reported to be between $80 million and $131 million. I'm not sure if any politician would look past the opportunity to cut $25 million from this project.

The bigger question is whether the idea of a completely open-air stadium will be placed on the negotiating table. In response to financing questions, the Vikings could say: We understand $1.057 billion is a big number, so let's just eliminate the roof. That would cover the entire cost of road improvements and still cut the total project cost to $982 million or lower.

Gov. Mark Dayton, among others, has said an open-air stadium would defeat the purpose of replicating the Metrodome's year-round availability. Eliminating the roof could be a non-starter for that reason, or it could be the leverage the Vikings need to get a bigger financial commitment from the state. (Dayton has thus far capped the state's contribution at $300 million.)

For what it's worth, my suggestion is to eliminate the retractable roof element as a gesture of good-faith cost-cutting. It would be fun and nostalgic to watch football outdoors on a bright fall day, but it would be a luxury at a time of financial desperation. Stay tuned.