Men With Shovels: From the right, Mayor R.T. Rybak, Gov. Mark Dayton and Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, breaking ground. Click on photo to see video of the groundbreaking.
Story for The UpTake by Andy Birkey/Video by Bill Sorem
Football fans, elected leaders and Vikings big shots assembled under a heated tent on Tuesday to celebrate the symbolic groundbreaking for a new Vikings stadium and the demolition of the old Metrodome. Pastries, coffee and ranks of gold-painted shovels and purple-horned hard hats were arrayed for the event, which was celebrated with a round of fireworks in the east parking lot of the Metrodome. The explosions may have been apt: Despite the festive celebration, the groundbreaking was carried out with an air of urgency: The $1 billion stadium, facing a host of political and financial problems, is still under the gun and the fake hole — the dignitaries used their shovels on a carefully arranged foot-deep pile of dirt that had been manicured above the cement parking surface, the black dirt surrounded by green swatches of indoor-outdoor carpeting giving the appearance of a freshly dug grave site — is not likely to be the end of things.
The “groundbreaking” almost didn’t happen this year. It was supposed to have occurred months ago, after the state sold the bonds to pay for the stadium. That sale was supposed to take place in March, but with deep concerns surrounding the stadium’s funding that arose after it became clear that the electronic pulltab scheme that was supposed to pay the state’s share was a failure, the bond sale was delayed repeatedly.
At this point, the bonds are slated to be sold in January, almost a year behind schedule.
Final agreements between the state, Minneapolis, and the Vikings also had to be signed before the groundbreaking. But those agreements were delayed after the state’s partner in the deal, Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf, were convicted in a civil fraud and racketeering case in New Jersey and ordered to pay $84.5 million in restitution. That triggered a state investigation and background check of the Wilfs and another delay, this one of more than a month.
State authorities also wanted the construction contracts in place before a groundbreaking, but those were delayed due to cost overruns. The construction sector has picked up significantly since the Legislature passed the stadium deal last year, and costs for the new stadium have increased sharply. State and Minneapolis officials seemed eager to sink their shovels into the dirt before anything more could come apart, crossing their fingers that the project, once underway, can’t be stopped.
“Obviously, getting here today has been a long process, for some people even longer than myself,” Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission head Michele Kelm-Helgen told the crowd — a mixed scrum of VIP’s and purple-painted fans. “I see a team of people who have come together to make this a reality and build this stadium.”
She said the stadium will “re-establish Minnesota as top city in the country to attract all these major events and put us on the map.”
Map-makers, take note. Minnesota is now on the map, or will be soon. Just watch.
“I want to thank our partners, the Minnesota Vikings,” Kelm-Helgen continued. “At critical points in the project they stepped up and in these last few weeks they stepped up again. The Vikings have offered to extend a line of credit to the construction of the stadium. It’s on a contingency basis, so any money saved on the project will go back to the Vikings.
Kelm-Helgen touted the possibility of a Super Bowl or Final Four tournament, high school sports and monster truck rallies, and, “of course, I imagine those Rollerbladers who will be a part of the dome as well.”
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf then took to the podium: “What a day. Since we became owners it was always our intent to first bring a championship and build a new stadium,” he said. “Well, we are embarking on both. Today is a great day for all the people of Minnesota.” Wilf made no mention of his team’s 3-and-8 record this season, with one tie. The new stadium is scheduled to be complete by 2016; no timetable has been established for an NFL championship.
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