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Updated: August 29th, 2011 8:10pm
'Growing concern' within Vikings ownership as lease countdown begins

'Growing concern' within Vikings ownership as lease countdown begins

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The countdown has begun.

With the Minnesota Vikings' preseason home opener against Dallas complete, the team now has one more exhibition and eight regular-season games left at the Metrodome before its lease expires on Feb. 1.

Owner Zygi Wilf and other team executives are hoping a special session will be called in October so the legislature can approve a proposed $300 million contribution from the state that will get a new stadium built on the site of a former Army ammunition plant in Arden Hills.

And if that doesn't happen?

"I am concerned," about the future, said Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development. "There is growing concern within our ownership, there is no doubt, about where this is headed and the fact that every year, we get to the end of the session and there's a different reason why (it didn't get done)."

Bagley acknowledged there have been valid reasons the Vikings stadium issue has remained on the table for this long -- the most recent being the state shutdown and the lack of an appetite to address that issue in the special session that was called to put Minnesota back in business.

"But now we're down to the end of the lease, and if we don't get it done this fall, we get to February (and) we will be the only NFL team without a lease," Bagley said. "The only one. There's already been knocks on the door about, 'Hey, we want to talk to you guys when your lease is up.'"

Those calls have come from Los Angeles and other potential suitors whom Bagley refused to identify. Tim Leiweke and his Anschutz Entertainment Group want to put a team in a downtown Los Angeles stadium they want to build. Real estate executive Ed Roski also hasn't given up on his goal of drawing a team to the stadium he wants to build in Industry, Calif., which is about 20 miles away from L.A.

"It's not my decision as to how the Wilfs want to move forward, but I think there's growing concern about how long this has gone on," Bagley said. "The Wilfs have been good owners. They've done everything that they've been asked and required to do.

"They went and got a great site and a great local partner, a significant local contribution, and they put the third-largest private stadium contribution on the table after the Jets-Giants stadium and after the Cowboys. What the Wilfs have offered -- $400-plus million up front and $20 million a year (in Arden Hills) -- is the third-largest private offer in NFL history."

The Wilfs' potential contribution has been reported as $407 million but is actually a little higher than that. The $20 million a year would be spread over the 30-year lease agreement.

The original hope was a special session would have been called in St. Paul during September, but it became clear the timeline had to be pushed back. Bagley said there have been weekly meetings with Gov. Mark Dayton's office and there are still questions that need to be resolved.

Part of the holdup is an Environmental Impact Study that is being done on the Arden Hills site. Bagley said that just got underway and will take 30 days.

There also is a feeling that there needs to be some breathing room between the time a special session was called to reopen the state and before the subject of a new stadium is broached. And the Vikings want time to educate people on what this will mean.

"We need some time also to sell it," said Bagley, pointing out it will help to get more information to the public and legislators.

"We're frustrated a little bit that we haven't been able to sell the Arden Hills deal. ... People aren't clear about the details, and there hasn't been enough public hearings, public discussions. I think you'll see some of that in September, and then our drive will be to an October special session. But it's not up to us."

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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