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Vikings seek new stadium in Minnesota, but future's uncertain

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Vikings are approaching the end of perhaps the most disappointing of their 50 seasons in Minnesota, the playoffs a near impossibility in a year that started with Super Bowl aspirations.

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Next year will be filled with uncertainty over whether or not the Vikings will stay in Minnesota.

The Vikings are about to enter the final year of their lease at the Metrodome, now known as Mall of America Field, and there's no telling where they will play their home games beyond the 2011 season. Two separate groups in Los Angeles are trying to lure a team back to the nation's second-largest market, which hasn't had an NFL franchise since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season.

How realistic is the possibility the Vikings would move west?

One analyst who closely follows the business of sports, economics professor Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College in Massachusetts, said he doesn't see it happening.

"Minnesota is just too strong a market," Zimbalist said Thursday. "I'm sure it'll be discussed, because they want to apply pressure. I just don't think it's going to happen."

In Zimbalist's view, the San Diego Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars are atop the list of teams most likely to relocate to Los Angeles.

The Chargers can declare their intent to leave between Feb. 1 and April 30 of each year through 2020 if they pay off the bonds used to expand Qualcomm Stadium in 1997. They announced this week they're staying in San Diego for 2011, but there's no certainty beyond that.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last February he's concerned about the Jaguars and that attendance needs to pick up for the city to keep the franchise. There's also speculation about the Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers.

The spokesman for one of the hopeful Los Angeles-area developers, Majestic Realty Co. vice president John Semcken, acknowledged the lack of certainty of landing a franchise.

"In my opinion, every team would prefer to be in the market that they're in, which is unfortunate for us," said Semcken, whose group already has state approval to build a privately financed project in the City of Industry, about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

Semcken said his group has been told the NFL isn't focusing on stadiums or franchise relocation until completion of a new collective bargaining agreement, a labor dispute that could dominate 2011.

But, Semcken added: "We're very confident that we'll get something eventually."

Anschutz Entertainment Group, led by president and CEO Tim Leiweke, is proposing a downtown stadium and convention center revamp as part of a large entertainment complex already run by AEG. An AEG spokesman didn't immediately return a message left Thursday.

Lester Bagley, a Vikings vice president, has acknowledged contact from both the Majestic and AEG groups about their interest in the franchise. The team's response, according to Bagley, was that the focus remains on having a new facility built in Minnesota.

"I think our issue is being watched nationally," Bagley said. "People know that we're down to the last year on our lease. We've been in a long, drawn-out discussion on the matter, but we feel pretty good about where we stand in Minnesota."

The Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area flocked this year to the Twins' new baseball park, Target Field, which has a $545 million price tag. The Twins will pay roughly one-third of the overall cost, but the majority of the money is coming from a special Hennepin County sales tax.

The Vikings are touting job creation -- up to 13,000 workers -- as a strong reason to commit public money to building a new stadium while acknowledging the state's priorities for more critical needs such as schools or health care.

The Vikings have previously pledged roughly one-third of the cost for a new stadium, which would cost at least $700 million, according to past estimates. They're currently studying four locations in the Twin Cities area, including the Metrodome site, with a goal of picking one and presenting state lawmakers with a proposal in February.

Any stadium legislation would have to navigate a complicated path, with state government short $6.2 billion over the next two-year budget cycle. Republicans who will run the Legislature next year and Democratic Gov.-elect Mark Dayton are focused on the deficit and the economy, although they haven't ruled out action on a stadium bill.

"We have these other things that are going to have to be fixed first," said Senate Majority Leader-designate Amy Koch.

Dayton has said he would support a stadium proposal if the public benefits outweigh the public's cost, but he hasn't gotten into specifics. Incoming House Speaker Kurt Zellers said he would like to see Vikings fans cover the public's share of a stadium, instead of spreading the cost to taxpayers more broadly.

"Forcing the average Minnesotan to pay for it because the state wrote out a check, I don't think that's something that we're going to be able to do right now," Zellers said.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and the team have avoided direct threats to leave, but in a statement last spring after the 2010 legislative session, the Vikings said a stadium solution "must be finalized" in 2011.

A plan unveiled by lawmakers featuring user-based taxes on hotel stays, car rentals and replica jerseys, plus revenue from a sports-themed lottery game, failed to move forward last spring. Bagley said a similar financing model is likely for 2011.

Zimbalist cautioned against construction jobs being a magic-bullet economic fix.

"If you spend public money on something, it should be something that is economically desirable and valuable," he said.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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