Commission approves plan to renew Vikings' dome lease
Minneapolis (AP) — The commission that operates the Metrodome has approved a plan aimed at keeping the Minnesota Vikings in the stadium past the current lease expiration in 2011.
The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission unanimously passed a plan by its finance committee on Thursday, which calls for the Vikings to get revenue from any postseason games at the Metrodome.
But it also threatens to reinstitute a $4 million annual rent if the team does not sign a two-year lease extension.
The Vikings sent a scathing letter to the commission on Wednesday denouncing the plan, saying it threatens the team's future in the state. They call any proposals to extend the lease a "non-starter."
Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf are trying to get a new stadium built on the Metrodome site, paid for partly with public money. The lagging economy and a state budget deficit have clouded the political prospects of the project.
The team's lease expires after the 2011 season, and the MSFC's proposal would keep the Vikings in the dome at least two more seasons with year-to-year renewal options after that.
The commission has not charged the Vikings rent since 2002 to help their bottom-of-the-NFL revenue situation, the Star Tribune reported Wednesday in a story about the resolution, but if the team doesn't agree to the plan it could be asked to resume paying.
Clearly, the team doesn't agree.
"What happened yesterday sent a chilling message to the Wilfs, the NFL and the other owners about how serious we are about solving this issue," vice president Lester Bagley said in a phone interview Wednesday evening shortly after the team shared the letter with reporters. "Granted, we have economic challenges but we need to move the discussion forward."
Bagley said the team didn't see the proposal coming.
"All of a sudden out of the blue, they've chosen to focus on a lease extension rather than solving the long-term problem," he said. "We need a real conversation and engagement by state and local leadership to move the situation forward."
Owner Zygi Wilf and president Mark Wilf co-signed a sharply worded letter addressed to Thatcher, saying the organization was "shocked, exasperated and extremely disappointed" by the "flawed revenue relief" proposal. It was delivered Wednesday, Bagley said.
"This action was a cynical attempt to advance a 'proposal' that you know is totally unacceptable to the Minnesota Vikings, and fails to address the issues important to both the short-term and long-term success of this franchise in Minnesota," the letter read.
The Wilfs, in the letter, touted their efforts to invest in the team without guarantee of a revenue-enhancing new stadium. The Vikings are 8-1 for the first time since 1998 behind new quarterback Brett Favre.
"As the last tenant in the Metrodome, we would expect to be treated fairly and with some minimum level of respect. Your actions yesterday leave us confused and questioning the future of this franchise," the letter read.
"As a result, we have instructed our management team to suspend any further engagement with the MSFC unless and until the Commission gets serious about resolving the near-term revenue issues, and acting like a partner with us to retain this valued franchise in the Minnesota for the next generation of fans. The time for more political games on this issue has expired."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)