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Vikings owner Wilf to donate money to bridge victims

MANKATO, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has
watched from afar while rescue workers sift through the murky
Mississippi River in search of victims from Wednesday's bridge
collapse.

On Friday, he pledged to donate all proceeds from the team's
annual training camp practice with the Kansas City Chiefs to relief
and recovery efforts for the families of the victims.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the owner also said
that he's still committed to pursuing public money for a new
stadium -- despite the potential for perceived insensitivity
following the catastrophe that occurred just a half-mile from the
Metrodome that Wilf wants to replace.

Five people were confirmed dead, with others still missing,
after the Interstate 35W bridge into downtown Minneapolis collapsed
during rush hour on Wednesday evening.

"We all understand that there has to be a focus on the
infrastructure, that we have to dedicate ourselves to make
transportation a priority for the sake of safety and for the sake
of a growing community that needs transportation infrastructure
that will move us into the 21st century," Wilf said.

"That does not exclude the fact that we understand that the
Metrodome is also one of the oldest facilities in the league, and
we want to make sure that we have a facility that meets the
standards of the 21st century."

Wilf is entering his third season as the team's principal owner,
and so far has yet to gain legislative approval for a new stadium.
He thought he had a deal to build one in the suburb of Blaine, but
that fell through last fall.

Now Wilf has turned his attention to building a new facility
downtown on the site where the 25-year-old Metrodome now stands. He
has already purchased several pieces of land around the area and is
planning a massive redevelopment plan that includes housing,
shopping and dining surrounding a retractable-roof stadium.

Just how it will be paid for is a major question. Wilf has
pledged about $250 million of his own money for the $954 million
project, but said he is still reviewing plans for the rest of the
tab.

"We're still working very hard analyzing all the different
options available to us and trying to see what would be best
suitable," Wilf said.

In the wake of Wednesday's heartbreak, some have questioned the
fairness of putting public dollars toward stadiums -- as the state
legislature has done recently in approving new buildings for the
Twins and University of Minnesota football teams -- when so many
roads and bridges need work.

Wilf stressed that he thinks the safety of Minnesota roads
should take precedence over a stadium, but said he thinks there is
also room for his plan, too.

"We believe that they both have to get done," Wilf said.
"It's just a matter of first making sure that our priorities as
they deal with transportation infrastructure get addressed
immediately. And that we will move forward on a stadium" as well.

Unlike previous owner Red McCombs, who drew the ire of Vikings
fans when he talked about moving to Los Angeles if he didn't get a
new stadium, Wilf has maintained that he wants to keep the team in
Minnesota.

He said that despite last year's disappointing 6-10 finish and a
fan base that was frustrated and apathetic by the end of the 2006
season, he's encouraged by the support he has seen.

"When fans and people have passion for a team like that,
there's no other home than Minnesota," Wilf said. "I just hope,
and I know, that everyone concerned realizes that we have many
other priorities to deal with. ... We have to all address those
priorities. We all realize that the well-being of the Minnesota
Vikings, for everyone concerned, will always be an important
issue."