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White Earth Tribe throws hat in Vikings' stadium debate

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

The days are winding down closer and closer to Feb. 1, which is a date that could live in infamy for Minnesota sports fans and residents alike.

It's the date when the Minnesota Vikings' 30-year lease runs out to play in the Metrodome, a facility which has been proven to be inadequate for the team and fans alike, as well to a certain extent, dangerous.

Last Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the collapse of the Metrodome roof, due to a blizzard which dropped over a foot of snow on the Minneapolis area.

The collapse came just hours before a sellout crowd would have been immersed in the Metrodome, narrowly avoiding what could have been a mass tragedy.

After nearly a decade of procrastinating on addressing the Viking stadium issue, the Minnesota Legislature has finally had a flame lit underneath its butt.

They are looking to finally act, before the second-coming of a purple-clad Minnesota team exiting the state and calling Los Angeles its home.

Now it's futile to list the inadequacies the Metrodome furnishes or how outdated it is. Viking fans already know this, if they have attended a game in the last decade.

But for those who are still living in 1980 and still listening to Wham, here are just a few notably serious drawbacks the Metrodome has for fans.

Concourses which are as narrow as high school hallways, which fans are herded through -- and clogged up both before and after games -- like cattle going to slaughter.

The restroom facilities are bad, to say the least, with fans missing up to an entire quarter of play, just to sit in line taking in the waves of warm, humid urine scent because there are not enough toilets available for 65,000-plus people.

Parking is a white-knuckle experience and at least an hour or so to get out of the metro-area congestion needs to be added to travel time.

Along with those problems, the Metrodome is simply outdated and needs to go.

Period. Not a lot of argument there.

Now, there has been some positive, progressive thinking of how to address the Viking stadium problem in these hard economic times.

It's pretty much agreed that no monies from the state's general fund will be used. The state's portion of the stadium cost can come from user fees, players' and coaches' taxes and sports memorabilia taxes. Or just a widespread minimal tax could be enacted, but already people are up in arms about that solution.

The argument of "No new taxes!" is already being heard and it's a legit gripe with how the state is already messed up financial-wise. But there still are detractors who are out of touch with the stadium issue.

That's the ignorance in which we live nowadays, but on to other matters.

The Arden Hills proposal is solid, with development using the old Artillery Plant in Ramsey County that would make it a destination and not just for NFL football Sundays.

Zygi Wilf, the owner of the Vikings, is pushing hard for this site, since his expertise in developing land would be beneficial to the state, and yes, to his wallet. Welcome to our capitalistic society folks!

Ramsey County officials see the benefits of adding the Viking stadium complex and are pushing hard to make this happen, since their tax base would increase with throngs of visitors coming there and spending money.

Funds are coming in from areas other than the state, as well.

Wilf has dedicated over $425 million towards the project. The NFL, graced with its new $3 billion contracts from the three major television networks, has the Vikings at the front of the line for up to a $200 million loan.

The Vikings would have to sell club seats and personal seat licenses in the new stadium to back the NFL loan, otherwise the team would be liable for the payback of it.

The stadium itself is reported to cost nearly $1.1 billion, with the remaining $650 million coming from Ramsey County (if Arden Hills is the selected site) and the state.

Now, Minneapolis has thrown its hat into the ring and has adopted the Metrodome site as the potential new site for the Vikings stadium, which reportedly would chop $200 million off the cost.

Admirable, but maybe a little too late.

Other teams such as Jacksonville, San Francisco and Oakland have solid plans in place for new stadiums. That leaves the Vikes and San Diego as potential teams that could move to Los Angeles.

But there is an entity lurking in the shadows with a proposal which would alleviate the state's burden of helping fund the stadium, and they reside just north of Detroit Lakes.

Tribe serious about

entering sweepstakes

There have been plenty of other proposals to help fund the stadium, ranging from St. Paul to Duluth.

But one proposal is local, and it came as something of a surprise to the Vikings and the State Legislature.

The White Earth Tribal Nation has a plan to fund the entire state portion of building a Vikings stadium, if they can build a casino and bring gaming to the metro area.

If the offer is taken serious by legislators and the Vikings, it could be a win-win situation for all sides included.

"We are proposing a solution to the Viking stadium issue, as well as addressing other potential state shortfalls," said White Earth Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor. "We are offering to build a casino where the Vikings stadium will be located and have 4,000 slot machines, 150 gaming tables and a 500-room hotel."

Vizenor added the tribe would incur all costs of building the casino and hotel, as well.

And why not start tapping into a resource which has proven to be a money-making endeavor for many years -- gaming.

The profits from the casino and hotel are estimated to be conservatiely $300 million annually, which would cover the state's and even Ramsey County's share of the stadium costs.

"We are willing to share with the state," Vizenor said.

It would potentially also create over 2,000 jobs during the construction of the casino and hotel.

"We could leverage more possibly, if need be," Vizenor said. "There would be no public money or special levies needed to help build a stadium."

If such a deal would be passed by the Legislature, that would mean a moratorium on any state gaming expansion after the White Earth Tribal Nation builds the casino on the site of the Vikings stadium.

Not only will the stadium issue be resolved, the rest of the casino's profits would be used to improve living for the largest and poorest tribes in the state.

Vizenor said profits would be used to enhance White Earth's housing, education and poverty problems, which are so prevalent on the reservation.

The tribe does run Shooting Star Casino, but the profits are far less than the metro-area casinos.

"It would be a huge help for our tribe and it would improve our Human Services immensely," Vizenor said. "We are addressing the issue of the elephant in the room, which is, 'Do you want the Vikings to stay?'

"We are willing to provide the public's share."

Vizenor had a three-minute presentation to the Legislature last Tuesday and it did come as an unexpected offer. There will, of course, need to be many details and negotiations to be had between the tribe, Legislature and Vikings, but Vizenor is willing to work with all involved.

Governor Dayton was quoted as saying, "I don't understand enough about it, but I appreciate the offer."

So, in essence, there is a ways to go to make it happen.

"The tribe has good credibility and we have experience (in gaming with Shooting Star Casino)," she said. "We have a proposed solution to the Viking stadium issue, but we need to have the Legislature and Governor Dayton on board for this to pass."

There will be other big obstacles, such as other tribes trying to block White Earth's venture into the metro area.

The White Earth Tribal Nation has been down this path before with Governor Tim Pawlenty, after it offered to build a casino in the Minneapolis metro area.

Although Pawlenty favored such a plan, it was defeated nonetheless.

With last Tuesday's proposal to the Legislature being just the first preliminary step, Vizenor said she will see the plan through.

"So many people are holding their cards to their chest," she said. "We didn't expect any reaction from the Legislature. We have also kept the Vikings informed on our plans, but we have not talked with anyone from the team face-to-face.

"I heard all the other proposals (last Tuesday) and we still have the best one."

Even though White Earth's plan is still in its pregame stage, the issue of keeping the Vikings and planning a stadium solution, has entered its final stages in the fourth quarter.

And as has been the case this season, the Vikings are finding themselves down on the scoreboard.

Now it's up to the Legislature and Governor Dayton to make that final drive and push to save the Minnesota Vikings, be it with the plan the White Earth Tribal Nation has proposed, or with another one.

It's time for that last-second comeback to tilt in the Viking fans' favor for once.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.