As the 2012 session of the Minnesota state legislature convenes Tuesday, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has narrowed the focus of the Minnesota Vikings stadium debate to one site. That's a good thing. Some legislators wouldn't have entertained the issue in its chaotic three-site form. One huge question, and excuse for delay, has been eliminated.
That Dayton's site is on the current Metrodome grounds, however, appears to have enraged the Vikings and shifted the burden of further progress to them. Do they fall in line and accept a site that appears to be the most economically limited and least exciting option, but also the cheapest and least disruptive? Do they wait a year, sign a short-term lease to return to the Metrodome and renew their push for a more vibrant site next year? Or should they exert the leverage of their expiring lease and begin fielding relocation overtures?
My guess is the NFL wouldn't consider the Vikings to be serious relocation candidates as long as a credible stadium proposal, however flawed it might be, remains on the table. Unfortunately, grandiose ideas and award-winning vision have probably met political reality.
The Vikings have pursued other sites for a number of reasons. Parking opportunities near the Metrodome are limited. It doesn't offer many commercial development opportunities, and rebuilding it would force a costly three-year move to the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium.
Their preferred site in suburban Arden Hills, Minn., has room for 20,000 parking spots and hundreds of acres for future development. Two proposed sites on the west side of Minneapolis, the Farmers Market and Linden Ave., offer the potential for a sports entertainment district with baseball's Target Field and the NBA's Target Center in close proximity.
The Metrodome site, however, might be the only politically viable option. Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak favors it because it's slightly cheaper and is situated on the region's growing light rail line. A divided Minneapolis City Council appears cool to the idea of selling the land required to make the Linden Ave. site work, according to the Star Tribune, and no one has been willing to touch the Farmers' Market site, which would require a complex set of real estate transactions before construction could begin.
The Vikings have been politically strong-armed into their least-desirable option. Part of their frustration stems from years of failed attempts to entice Minneapolis leaders to partner with them on a stadium project. The cool reaction led them to Arden Hills, where they have put in almost a year's worth of planning, and only when that site grew credible and serious did Rybak emerge with a proposal of his own. It remains in its infant stages even now, and the city met a recent deadline to Dayton with a skimpy four-page outline of its plans. Most notably, there are few details available on how the city would fund its portion of the project, and the Vikings have not said how much they would pay, either.
In the end, however, it appears Rybak has been operating from a position of strength. It's obvious that the most powerful political forces in the state want the stadium in downtown Minneapolis, and they have maneuvered to block off all other options. Legislative leaders have refused to lift a requirement for a voter referendum to approve funding for the Arden Hills site, effectively quashing it. And something happened in recent days to convince Dayton that the Linden Ave. site doesn't have enough political traction, either.
The next move is the Vikings'. They won't have much choice but to negotiate the best Metrodome deal they can, which would include folding in projected losses at TCF Bank Stadium into the total cost of the project. Waiting until 2013 offers no guarantees, and seeking relocation as long as the Metrodome proposal remains credible isn't likely to fly with the NFL. But if compromise means no one is completely happy with the outcome, then the Vikings and the Metrodome site are a good fit.