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Hardy Vikings fans rally for stadium

About 75 Vikings football fans gather on the Minnesota Capitol steps Thursday to rally for a new stadium. Most state policymakers say they cannot support tax money going for a stadium. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- The message a handful of Minnesota Vikings football fans sent state leaders was simple: get-r-done.

The 75 hardy fans cheering outside the state Capitol Thursday did not deliver a plan to finance a new Vikings stadium. They just said they wanted one and urged state leaders to be creative about financing it.

But they said it with passion.

"I would dig a hole and die" if the Vikings left Minnesota, said Larry Stalberger, a Detroit Lakes, Minn., native who now lives in Bloomington. "It would be like losing a family member."

Added Eric Jacobsen of Moose Lake: "I cannot imagine my daughter growing up not having the Vikings."

The rally was tiny by Capitol standards, where hundreds routinely show up for obscure causes and thousands sometimes gather to support or oppose a hot topic.

Those rallying Thursday said if a new stadium is not approved to replace the Metrodome, the Vikings professional football team likely will leave the state for a city where the government is willing to help finance a stadium. Many said the state has spent money to help build facilities for professional hockey, baseball and basketball teams, as well as for college teams, so it is past time for the state's most popular sports franchise to get its share.

Most of those who shivered on the Capitol's south steps knew that convincing legislators and the governor to help fund a stadium would be tough in this sour economic climate, but Jacobson said state officials were not the audience those at the rally wanted to reach.

"It is about motivating the people to know we won't have a football team," he said.

Shortly before the rally, a St. Paul restaurant customer, a Vikings fan, said it was too cold (23 degrees) to rally for something that would cost him money.

The rally came a day after state officials learned they face a nearly $7 billion budget deficit in the next three and a half years.

Shortly after the deficit was announced Wednesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty called the timing of the rally interesting.

"It will make their case much more difficult," he said of the deficit.

Legislative leaders said much the same thing, giving education, health care and other essentials higher priority than a Vikings stadium.

Many legislators say they cannot support a stadium in a time when 150,000 Minnesotans have lost their jobs and the state faces such a big deficit.

Vikings officials say they cannot get enough revenue in the Metrodome, home to the team since 1984.

When he came to Minnesota, Vikings owner Ziggy Wilf said he would keep the team in the state, even if it had to play on a kids' field. Now, however, some in the Vikings camp are making noises about moving the team if no new stadium is built.

Originally, a new stadium was expected to cost $950 million, but there has been no new cost estimate since the economy slowed. The new economic situation could lower the cost.

The Vikings floated an idea to increase the Twin Cities' hospitality tax to raise up to $16 million annually, but Pawlenty and other Republicans reject any tax increases.

Stalberger, who took part of a day off work to attend the rally, said he understands people's apprehension about providing state funding for a stadium. He suggested that expanding gambling around the state could provide stadium funds.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, suggested a "purple ribbon" commission to look into the stadium situation, but has not supported anything beyond a study.

Ex-Viking linebacker Matt Blair, who stayed in Minnesota after his playing days ended, told Thursday's rally that miracles can happen, so fans should remain optimistic. He said that losing the team would be "an awesome disappointment."

Stalberger said it is important to build a new Vikings facility, and not just for the Twin Cities. He said that his relatives, mostly in the Detroit Lakes and Mahnomen areas, also are huge fans. And Fargo, N.D., is among the team's best markets.

Jason Chambers of Moose Lake, who attended the rally with Jacobson and Jason Defibaugh, said cities like Los Angeles that are trying to attract the Vikings are not doing it just for sports.

"They want the money," Chambers said. "They want the jobs."

Defibaugh said that Minnesota needs the money football produces in the state.

"Losing that much of an income ... would be devastating," he said.

Jacobson said as a five-year season-ticket holder, he spends $300 a game, plus sales tax that would be lost if the Vikings leave the state.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.