Vikings hold ceremonial groundbreaking for new stadium

MINNEAPOLIS — Inside the Metrodome, the season hasn’t gone
the Minnesota Vikings’ way. On Tuesday, just outside the east entrance of the 31-year-old building, the team held the biggest moment of its season.

Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were joined by political
and business leaders, along with several fans, for a ceremonial groundbreaking
for the team’s new billion-dollar stadium, set to be built on the current
footprint of the Metrodome.

As the Wilfs, Governor Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T.
Rybak and others donned purple construction helmets and used gold shovels to
dig into fresh dirt in the east Metrodome parking lot, construction had already
begun not far away for the new stadium, which is set to open in time for the
2016 season.

“I feel a little bit like coach (Leslie) Frazier must
have felt after the game on Sunday,” Dayton told a group of supporters in
a ceremony Monday. “I can’t believe it’s over and I can’t believe we
won.”

The stadium has been 10 years in the making as the team and
the state negotiated to replace the outdated Metrodome. Finally, in May 2012,
Dayton signed the bill into law approving the $957 million stadium costs.

“Today’s the day that a lot of Minnesotans start to go
to work,” Dayton said Tuesday. “That’s the exciting thing about this
project. Today is breaking ground and people all over this metropolitan area
who have been sitting on the bench are going to be working over the next couple
of years thanks to this project.”

Construction on the project is expected to require 4.5
million total work hours and include up to 1,127 workers on site at the peak of
the project.  The construction site
covers 1.7 million gross square feet for the new stadium.

The 64,000-seat stadium will include 9,000 club seats, 115
suites and seven levels with a 360-degree view of the field. Two iconic
features will be a set of five large, glass, pivoting doors and a translucent
roof.

“Camden Yards (and) Coors Field did for baseball what
this stadium will do for football,” Rybak said. “No football
experience in the United States of America is woven into the urban fabric until
this one. This will transform the way we look at these facilities.”

The team’s previous owner had started the push for a new
stadium and the Wilfs bought the Vikings in 2005 for $600 million and continued
negotiations with political leaders.

“It’s a great milestone,” Mark Wilf said Monday.
“I wouldn’t call it relief as much as excitement for our fans and for the
public at large and for the Minnesota Vikings. The great history we have here,
and this cements our future for generations to come, so it’s really an exciting
day.”

The Vikings, in the midst of a 3-8-1 season, are in their
final season at the Metrodome, which they have played in since 1982.

Construction has begun, but the bulk of the work will come
in 2014 after the Vikings’ season is over. The team is scheduled to play at the
University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium on campus for two seasons while
construction continues.

“Since we became owners, it was always our intent to,
first bring a championship and build a new stadium,” Zygi Wilf said.
“Well, we’re embarking on both and today is a great day for all the people
of Minnesota and all our fans across the country.”

The city has already been chosen as a finalist to host the
Super Bowl in 2018 in the new stadium, and Mark Wilf said the stadium will play
a role in fielding a team capable of reaching the Super Bowl.

“I think it’s going to help us attract players and
allow us to be competitive for decades to come and give us that opportunity to
get that championship and that’s ultimately our goal,” Mark Wilf said.
“That’s what we’re working on. Yes, that is our goal and we’re working
hard every day. We hope to get that championship here very soon.”

On Nov. 22, the Vikings, the Stadium Authority and Mortenson
Construction agreed to the maximum construction costs of $763 million, while
the Wilf family committed up to an additional $41.4 million in private
contribution.

“They’ve got a not-too-exceed cost now for the building
of it, to the credit of the Authority and Mortenson and the Vikings have put in
an additional $41 million,” Dayton said. “The budget is set and I
think it will be on time and on budget.”

Although the bill has been signed into law and construction
has begun, some still protest the use of public funds for the stadium. As part
of the original $975 million total, the Vikings were responsible for $477
million before adding in the additional $41.4 million last month.

“It’s easy to demagogue a project of this size and
scale, but there are going to be thousands of Minnesotans working on this
project, on the Ryan project next to it, that would not be working without
these initiatives,” Dayton said. “So, the naysayers can just go say
nay.”

Dayton, Rybak and other political and business leaders
believe the stadium will be the centerpiece to a revitalization of the area,
including an already under-discussion plan for a $400 million project,
according to Dayton.

“We’ll go from having a dome stadium that’s antiquated,
doesn’t have any tenant or revenue generation and nothing around it except
parking lots and empty space, to go through a transformation of this part of
Minneapolis,” Dayton said. “That’s what this is about. This is an
economic revitalization project. It’s a major jobs project and that’s what
makes it worth the public commitment.”

Rybak said: “When you look at this from the sky, the
Metrodome was a spaceship and everybody ran because they were afraid of the aliens.
We’re going to build the most beautiful spaceship that will land and we’ll be
really curious about those guys and everyone will want to come and get into it.
It’s a huge difference for what we’re doing for the city.”

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