Zygi, Vikings finally have a home of their own
Zygi and Mark Wilf approached the steps of the Minnesota state
Capitol building, and were immediately swarmed by high-fives and
cheers from Vikings fans.
The Vikings owners beamed as they celebrated finally landing
public funding for a new $975 million stadium that will keep the
team in Minnesota for another generation.
For two East Coast brothers whose purchase of the team in 2005
was viewed with skepticism and nervousness by a community that has
lost professional sports franchises before, the Wilfs sure have
come a long way – in the eyes of the fans and state lawmakers.
”We’re here to stay,” Zygi Wilf said Thursday night at a press
conference to celebrate the passage of a stadium bill.
The cheers from purple-clad fanatics in the back of Gov. Mark
Dayton’s reception room weren’t always so hearty.
The Wilfs have been pushing for a new stadium to replace the
drab and outdated Metrodome ever since they arrived seven years
ago. And no matter how many times they assured everyone they were
committed to staying in Minnesota, their lack of roots in the
meat-and-potatoes Midwest served to undercut their efforts.
Glitzy Los Angeles always loomed in the background, with fans
worrying that the nation’s second-largest city would steal the
Vikings away from mid-market Minnesota much like it stole the
Lakers back in 1960.
Legislative leaders chafed at giving public money to outside
businessmen and fans had difficulty fully embracing the new owners
of the most popular sports team in the state.
As the Wilfs ran into road block after road block, frustrations
ran high both inside and outside the organization. They were
continually told to wait their turn while other facilities were
built for the Twins and University of Minnesota football team, and
many thought they would have to threaten to move or sell the team
to get any traction with legislators who had grown weary of stadium
From the day they arrived in the Twin Cities, Zygi and Mark
steadfastly refused to play that card, perhaps compromising the
built-in leverage they had to pressure lawmakers in the
”We knew from day one that we were going to fight to ensure
that this day would come,” Zygi Wilf said. ”Our commitment to
having Viking football here for generations was always the
For two guys from rough and tumble New Jersey, they sure know a
thing or two about ”Minnesota Nice.”
Rep. Morrie Lanning, a Republican who was the stadium’s chief
House advocate, said it was a wise strategy.
”They handled it exactly the right way and I think it would’ve
made matters worse, or more difficult, if they had actually
threatened, which they never did,” Lanning said.
In some ways, they never had to. Two groups working feverishly
to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles grabbed plenty of headlines
themselves, and the dots were easily connected when NFL
Commissioner Roger Goodell visited last month.
”We always understood that in talking with league officials and
knowing what’s happening around the country, that if we weren’t
able to do something here, there were going to be other people
looking to buy this team or move this team,” Lanning said.
”That’s a very real possibility that now is no longer going to be
It came down to the wire. The Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome
expired last season and setback after setback threatened the
franchise’s 51-year history in Minnesota.
Separate deals with Anoka County in suburban Minneapolis and
Arden Hills in suburban St. Paul fell through in previous years,
and this legislative session went into overtime as supporters and
opponents vehemently argued their positions.
”I never had a doubt that we were going to build a stadium,”
Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, a Republican, quipped. ”It
was just what year and which team is going to play in it.”
Even Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs and
stadium development, started to wonder if it was possible to make
it happen in Minnesota.
”Oh yeah. There was a lot of defeat and ups and downs and
points in this debate where it was `This might not be able to get
done.”’ Bagley said after the final vote came down in the Vikings’
The Wilfs had to pledge $50 million more to close the deal. The
Vikings and NFL will put $477 million toward the project, the state
has pledged $348 million and the City of Minneapolis will chip in
Now Vikings fans can exhale, secure that Minnesota will not join
the list of cities – Baltimore, Cleveland, Los Angeles, St. Louis,
Houston – that have lost NFL franchises and had to scramble to try
to get one back.
”We just secured the Minnesota Vikings for the whole next
generation,” said Vikings fan Steve Smith of Oronoco. ”The little
kids with the school buses coming by right now, they’re going to be
grown men the next time they have to deal with this. That would
make me proud.”
After the bill passed, the Vikings and the University of
Minnesota announced a preliminary agreement to allow the NFL team
to use TCF Bank Stadium while a new Vikings stadium is built on the
Metrodome site. The Vikings will pay the university a fixed fee of
$250,000 per game. The combined rent and expected concessions and
sponsorship revenue that the Vikings would share with the
university would amount to $300,000 per game, or $3 million per
The new stadium should be ready for the 2016 season, and the two
brothers who were once outsiders will have a new home – in their
new home – for decades to come.
”This will be truly special,” Mark Wilf said. ”As hard as
we’ve worked for this day, we will commit going forward that this
will be first class and special, and something that all Minnesotans
can be truly proud of.”
Associated Press Writer Alexandra Tempus contributed to this
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