EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It was a grueling process, one that began for Lester Bagley even before he formally worked for the Minnesota Vikings. For the past 10 years, Bagley has been the face of the effort to land a new stadium in Minnesota. And for the previous nine years, it failed.
Only with its toes on the edge of the cliff did the state legislature approve a 30-year commitment to keep the storied franchise. As Bagley said about the process, with a mix of lament and admiration, "It's nearly impossible."
"We did have many times during the long-running debate where we thought, 'This may not be able to get done,' " Bagley told NFL.com while watching a recent offseason practice. "But we prevailed. Now we can move on to the exciting part. That's to design and build a first-class facility that everyone can be proud of, that can work for everybody and be unique to our state."
After a late-night vote May 9 by the Minnesota state senate, Bagley, the Vikings' vice president of public affairs and stadium development, screamed, "Let's build it!" The last hurdle came May 25 with the Minneapolis City Council's approval. Much to the delight of the purple-clad crazies who camped out in front of the capital to sway the sentiment of their public officials, there was rejoicing. A few weeks after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell helped kick-start a comeback tale that will put a new stadium on the Metrodome site (using $477 million from the Vikings, $348 million from the state and $150 million from the city), it finally got done.
Yet along with the euphoria is reality. Now that the stadium deal has finally passed, what now? Now that the smoke has cleared, what do the Vikings actually have to do?
Bagley explained the various facets of moving forward with a new lease on life in Minnesota. Perhaps by this week, five appointed members of a newly created Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority will be in place to represent the public interest and help hammer out details of the 30-year lease. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Mayor R.T. Rybak will make those calls. Meanwhile, they will begin soliciting plans from architects and builders to determine who is the best fit for the new project. That process will play out into the fall.
Certain key issues must be addressed:
What elements of the stadium will be retractable?
Bagley said they'd like some element of the stadium to be retractable, "whether it's the roof, the walls, a window. That's part of the design process."
The Wilfs imagine a facility that will eventually house a Major League Soccer team to go with local and amateur events.
"We think there is a market," Bagley said.
If that's the case, the facility has to be able to be open. While Bagley talked about showcasing beautiful Minnesota falls, the team will have to decide, in conjunction with NFL regulations, whether it wants to embrace the snow and cold or protect its team from it.
How will training camp be altered?
The Vikings made Minnesota State University-Mankato their training camp home for the 46th time in 2011, but for a time it looked like it might be one of the last. They existed on year-long deals until there was a new stadium because no one knew where they would train if they moved to, say, Los Angeles. Now, they know.
"We can make a long-term commitment to Mankato," Bagley said.
In fact, there were few, if any, long-term contracts with business vendors because they had to prepare for the possibility of leaving the state. There will be now.
Is Winter Park a suitable location for team headquarters going forward?
Let's be blunt: The current practice home of the Vikings is subpar. Bagley was kind calling it "barely up to standards." A drab building with few sparkles and little convenience, it can't be a fun place to come to work. And if you're a free agent, it's not an incentive to sign with the Vikings.
Up until now, the team couldn't make improvements because it didn't know if it would stick around. Finally, the Wilfs and the rest of the team's brass can figure out what to change, if in fact Winter Park can receive enough of a facelift to be sufficient -- a place where the corporate headquarters should remain.
"It's about sitting down with the owners and coaches and football guys and determining what they want to see in a training facility and does it fit at this particular site or do we look at a different site?" Bagley said. "Is there a way to expand this facility, renovate, go up? So that's those the decisions that we are now making."
There are other logistical issues, including needing two separate sales and marketing departments for each stadium for the next four years. And it might not be easy. But they've done what's hard. They've already made the third-largest private contribution in NFL history, while the public has made the second-largest public contribution. The Wilfs have been proven heroes for keeping the Vikings in Minnesota and Bagley has earned redemption for gritting his teeth and completing his task.
It's only the beginning, though. No doubt, for the next four years, it'll be a battle. But that doesn't mean they didn't take a moment to bask in the well-earned success.
"The biggest thing is you know it's going to be Minnesota Vikings," GM Rick Spielman said. "The situation is finally stable and the players understand, 'Hey, we're going to be here in Minnesota.' You're not reading about, 'Hey, you're moving to L.A.' It's not something that distracts from what needs to get done on the field, but it's something that's always in the paper. Now that we know we're going to be here in Minnesota, there's a lot of very excited people in the building that we're going to stay here."
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