What’s the big deal about a roof?

Gov. Mark Dayton called the Vikings stadium debate at the Capitol “a fiasco” today. It’s hard to argue the point when you track the history of the stadium effort and who’s in favor of what and when.

The latest wrinkle is the notion that a new stadium could be built that could, if and when money allows, get a roof later.

“We have a consultant who has worked on a number of stadiums around the country, and the financing of them,” Dayton said. “And he’s not aware of any stadium that was ‘roof ready’ that ever had a roof added to it. Why wouldn’t you do it all in one piece and get it right? When will the time come to get the public support, political support, legislative support to put another $100 million, $120 million into putting a roof on? And until that happens, you have a stadium sitting empty for 355 days a year.”

Presumably, Dayton is speaking on behalf of the Vikings, who have been relatively calm on the question, other than to say they don’t support the idea.

Mike Ozanian of Forbes, says the Vikes are likely hedging their bets.

Seems to me the Vikings are merely hedging their bet.They understandably prefer Dayton’s $975 million stadium plan but are concerned it may not get enough votes to pass given it is unpopular with taxpayers and would be subsidized by the public to the tune of $77 per ticket, per game, for thirty years. That plan includes $427 million from the team, $150 million from the city of Minneapolis and $398 million from the state, paid through an expansion of charitable gambling.

So they need backup plan endorsed by republicans, who control both chambers of Minnesota’s legislature, that would significantly shrink the state’s contribution and finance it with state general bonds rather than tax money from an expansion of legal gambling. According to the StarTibune, under the new proposal about $200 million in stadium infrastructure costs would get lumped in with a larger state bonding bill that would pay for repair of roads, bridges and buildings, including restoration of the Capitol. Republican leaders said the details would be worked out in coming days. But this proposal calls for a roofless stadium, which would have limit the stadium’s ability to host amateur sports and special events year-round.

But it’s an idea the Vikings liked the last time their stadium proposal was circling the drain at the Capitol.

It was 2006 and then the deal was a proposal to locate the stadium in Anoka County. At the last minute, the Vikings announced they were ready to give up the roof.

Anoka County officials were the ones who were reluctant to build a stadium without a roof, because they wanted to use the stadium for other functions.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, on the other hand, said an outdoor stadium would give the Vikings a competitive advantage over teams from milder climates, according to MPR reporter Tom Scheck’s 2006 story on the subject, when the Vikings were trying to get a stadium that cost almost half then what it would now.

Lester Bagley, the point man on the Vikings stadium push at the Capitol this year, was whistling the no-roof tune.

“Green Bay has an open-air stadium. Chicago has an open-air stadium. Buffalo has an open-air stadium. Seventy percent of the fans would be covered. There are ways to heat the floors and the seats and to provide technology to keep our fans comfortable,” he said at the time.

Meanwhile, one prominent Vikings stadium proponent is branching out. Cory Merrifield, who runs the Save the Vikings website, has an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution urging Georgia to build a new stadium for the Falcons.

Nowhere in our Constitution is it written that we are entitled to an NFL team. I won’t try to justify the economics of the NFL. They are predatory and absurd. It’s a limited market and we have to pay for a team if we want one. But what you can do is strike a balance: a public-private partnership in which Atlanta retains its status as one of the top regions in the U.S. while securing its NFL franchise for another generation.