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Updated: March 18th, 2013 4:23pm
Vikings get NFL loan for stadium; retractable element still a priority

Vikings get NFL loan for stadium; retractable element still a priority

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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PHOENIX -- For the first time in more than a decade, Minnesota Vikings officials aren't making a presentation about their stadium issue at the NFL meetings.

The $975 million project was approved in May, leaving the Vikings to make a different pitch here and try to bring a Super Bowl to the new building.

"We've had conversations (Sunday and Monday), and that'll pick up as we move forward," Vikings vice president and stadium point man Lester Bagley said on Monday at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel.

" ... We are getting a lot of high-fives, a lot of kudos because everyone followed this saga in Minnesota for many years and at times, it looked like it may never get done."

Another piece of the puzzle was completed on Monday afternoon, when the NFL's Joint Finance and Stadium Committee and the full ownership approved a league-sponsored, low-interest loan through the G4 program.

The Vikings received the maximum loan of $200 million towards their $477 million contribution to the project, to be paid back over 15 years with a waiver allowing that to be extended to 25.

"Basically, this is a statement of support by the NFL and the other owners that this is a project they believe in," Vikings owner/president Mark Wilf said, "and they want to put their financial wherewithal behind, and we're very excited for the stadium project and for the fans of Minnesota and the Vikings fans and the state of Minnesota. It's a great step forward."

The Vikings have submitted their application to host the Super Bowl after the 2017, '18 or '19 seasons, with Super Bowl LII (52) in February 2018 the preferred target.

"There's been some background discussions we've continued to have," Wilf said. "The league is aware and the commissioner. ... We have an application in and we're shooting for a Super Bowl down the road here."

HKS Inc. was hired as the stadium architect in January and Mortenson Construction as the contractor last month. According to Bagley, the plan is to deliver the final design package in late April or early May and unveil it to the public within a couple weeks after that.

Groundbreaking would come around October near the Metrodome, which is scheduled to be knocked down around Feb. 1, after the Vikings' 2013 season is complete.

"We're now merging the builder with the architect and starting to cost things out," Bagley said. "That's kind of where we are now. We've been involved in the design process all the way. It's just a matter of, what can we afford?"

None of the key elements the Vikings want have been taken off the table yet, Bagley said, "but we're in that process now."

A battle over making the stadium suitable for baseball was recently resolved, putting more pressure on the budget. And there are more decisions ahead in the next six weeks or so as the team and the new stadium authority try to make budget.

"Value engineering, as they say in that business, is deciding what can we afford -- because 975 (million) is a rather tight budget," Bagley said. "If you look at the stadiums built in the San Francisco stadium, Jets/Giants -- both open-air stadiums, both come in at more than a billion, billion-two."

Among the most significant expenses to be considered is the retractable element the Vikings have made clear they want included.

"That's a big one, and that's a priority of ours," Bagley said. "As you know, whether it's a window overlooking the downtown skyline or an operable door that would open to the plaza or a roof or some combination -- those are the three elements that they're pricing out and then we're going to have to see how those costs fit in with the other pieces of it."

Meanwhile, renovations to TCF Bank Stadium in anticipation of the Vikings' two-year stay there for 2014 and '15 could begin within the next couple of months as well. About 3,500 seats will be added in the west end zone to bring the capacity over 53,000 to accommodate the Vikings' season ticket base, Bagley said.

Putting heating coils under the field is "still being finally ironed out," Bagley said. "But there's several million dollars in capital improvements that go to expanding the capacity, that go to the weatherization issue and go to expanding concessions for our fan base."

The new stadium is scheduled to open in time for the 2016 Vikings season.

Bagley said the team remains confident, based on reports from Gov. Mark Dayton's administration, that electronic pulltabs will develop quickly enough to fund the state's portion of the $975 million tab. But it's one of many challenges that still lie ahead.

"Everything is just a battle," Bagley said, "and so we aren't resting until the doors are open in three years."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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