As season ends, Vikings insist dome lease is overby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — The Minnesota Vikings' loss to the Chicago Bears at the Metrodome Sunday put an end to one of the franchise's worst seasons and renewed the pressure for the state to replace the Viking's home for the last 30 years.
There are a lot of questions about the Minnesota Vikings. What went wrong with the 2011 season? Who'll be taking snaps from the center next season? What will happen now that the lease on their home field has expired?
But there weren't many answers in Minneapolis on Sunday as the team stumbled to their 13th loss of the season, tying the club's all-time low point from the 1984 season. Starting quarterback Christian Ponder played for less than half the game, suffering his second hip injury in as many months.
The future of the team itself wasn't much clearer.
"Our position remains the same. We will not extend our lease without a stadium agreement," said Vice President Lester Bagley, repeating the team's assertion that their legal obligation to play in the dome ended Sunday.
That's despite a clause in their lease that extends the agreement by a year if they were unable to play in the dome. A roof collapse in 2010 forced them out of the stadium for the final two home games of that season.
"The question is in the short term, between today, when our lease expires, and when the stadium deal gets done," Bagley said. "It ... should be a moot point if we get this thing done. A short term lease extension could be put in the legislation. And we can move forward and build a new stadium."
But after nearly a decade of pushing to resolve the stadium debate, the Vikings didn't sound much closer to their goal.
State Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, was a stadium bill sponsor last year and was at the game. He said lawmakers are still weighing stadium options, after a year of closed-door negotiations.
"We're waiting for some additional information to come back from Ramsey County, from the team, and from the city of Minneapolis so that we can evaluate, in effect, their last best offer," Lanning said. "We need to know ... how far each of them are willing to go."
The Senate stadium bill sponsor, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said she and her Senate colleagues would have to regroup on the issue, in the wake of the political turmoil surrounding the resignation of Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch last month.
But noting the Senate's new leader, Dave Senjem, has supported horse track casino games, Rosen said the financing options may be clearer.
"Everything is still at play. I think gambling absolutely is going to be part of the funding source for a new stadium," Rosen said.
Fans at the game were divided about what's next for the Vikings.
Tailgaters like Cathy Haley said people from the western Twin Cities suburbs like her would prefer the team stay in Minneapolis, close to Target Field. She said it would be convenient, and leverage the city's existing amenities. "Look at what the Twins stadium did for downtown on the weekends," Haley said. "Look at the money that they're getting on the weekends, between hotels and restaurants and everything there."
Fellow tailgater Erik Helgerson said he's been to every home game since 1994, and finds downtown a lackluster experience. He'd like to improve the game-day outside the stadium, with a big suburban parking lot where everyone can gather.
"I think if they stick it down in Minneapolis, it only gets you 50 percent of the way there," Helgerson said. "Out in Arden Hills, it takes you all the way there. It is a little bit more expensive, but if you want something nice, you gotta pay."
But many fans in the stands were like Mary Elin Miller, from near Willmar. She sounded as weary of the debate as she was of the Vikings dismal play.
"I really don't care," she said. "Just get it done — wherever."
But the end of the football season didn't sound like it brought a new stadium any closer.
- Morning Edition, 01/02/2012, 7:20 a.m.