MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings officially broke ground on their new stadium Tuesday morning, marking an important milestone in a six-year process that looked like it might never get to this point.
Plans for the stadium, which will open in 2016 on the site of the Metrodome, went through years of legislative setbacks before the state legislature approved a $975 million plan in May 2012. The snags continued even in 2013, as funding from the state's charitable gambling plan lagged and the state reviewed the Wilf family's finances after a New Jersey judge ruled against the Vikings owners in a 21-year-old lawsuit.
But on Tuesday, as the Wilfs, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, outgoing Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak and others gave congratulatory speeches and put shovels in the ground, the stadium project finally seemed to be running smoothly.
"We're focused on the project, the jobs it's bringing to Minnesota and what it's going to do for the economy," Vikings president Mark Wilf said. "And as the building goes up, and people see what an exciting and beautiful project it's going to be, I think the excitement and the good feeling about what this means for the state and the city are going to overcome a lot of those feelings."
Construction in the Metrodome's east parking lot had actually started before Tuesday's ceremony, but the occasion was as much about catharsis as anything else, with a volley of fireworks going off shortly after Vikings owners and elected officials tossed the first shovels of dirt.
Wilf reminded those in attendance that Minneapolis is a finalist for the 2018 Super Bowl and has bid for college football's 2017 national championship game.
Numerous speeches pointed to the 4.3 million work hours that will go into the project, and Rybak celebrated the revitalization the stadium will bring to Minneapolis' sleepy Downtown East neighborhood, which is also scheduled to get a $400 million mixed-use development just west of the stadium.
The occasion wasn't all smiles: Dayton, who had said the 65,000-seat facility would be a "people's stadium" and criticized the Vikings' plan to fund it through personal seat licenses, said again the licenses were too expensive. Three conservative groups also called a news conference at the State Capitol in St. Paul to protest the stadium's funding plan, which includes $498 million in public money.
But Dayton, who ultimately spearheaded the charge for the stadium, said again that the bill was a better alternative than the Vikings relocating to Los Angeles and added "it's easy to demagogue against a project like this. But demagoguery doesn't put people to work."
Two days after the Vikings beat the Chicago Bears in overtime for their third victory of the season, Dayton used it to parallel another unlikely occasion.
"I can't believe it's over," Dayton said to laughter from Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and others. "And I can't believe we won."