Minn. Vikings stadium construction almost a go

Published Oct. 25, 2013 2:02 p.m. ET

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- With their eyes on the budget and tight construction schedule, key players behind the Minnesota Vikings stadium project said Friday they are entering a critical month that will determine what amenities they'll be able to afford.
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority discussed the rapid-fire steps ahead for the $975 million project during what was supposed to be the final hearing before November's groundbreaking. But chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen told members to expect to be summoned for more meetings to tie up loose ends.
"This project is beginning to move at lightning speed," she said. "That will be the way of the world."
A critical element is due next week. That's when the lead contractor, Mortenson Construction, delivers a "guaranteed maximum price" for labor, materials and other tangible parts of the building. Those costs were anticipated to consume $737 million of the overall budget, with the rest needed for land acquisition, insurance and other professional services attached to the project.
It's already in doubt whether developers can fit in auxiliary locker rooms, a second advertising ribbon board, extra escalators and more laundry equipment -- as the stadium authority wants. And the Vikings are concerned about technological aspects getting short shrift, including top-of-the-line scoreboards.
Kelm-Helgen has acknowledged that some preliminary bids for the stadium have been coming in higher than hoped, but she disputed a published report from Sports Business Daily suggesting the stadium was already running $45 million above projections.
"That figure is way higher than anything we're looking at," she said.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said there are daily meetings involving the team, authority, lead architect and construction firm on how keep the project on budget.
"It's a moving target; it's evolving," he said. "We have confidence we are going to be able to wrestle it to the ground. It's a significant issue and absolutely crucial that this thing be brought in on budget."
The Vikings are required to guarantee $477 million from the owners and other private sources for the project, but the team has also committed $13 million to a contingency fund that could be tapped for amenities it sorely wants. That includes high-definition score boards behind both end zones, building-wide wireless capability and televisions in the concourses so fans can see the game while purchasing concessions.
The pricing report from the contractor needs to be done before the Vikings can lock in their private share, which will be partially offset by the sale of seat licenses and naming rights.
Soon after, the state will sell bonds toward the $498 million public contribution. With interest rates creeping up, state officials are debating whether to sell all of the bonds at once to lock in a good rate or meter out the debt to have it available only when needed.
Once the money is in hand, the project managers plan to order the massive amounts of steel that will go into the building. A recovering economy has led to an uptick in construction, so officials know material costs could shoot up if they wait too long.
The Vikings are in their final season at the Metrodome, which will be demolished to make room for the new building. The Vikings will play at the University of Minnesota's campus football stadium during construction.