- Associated Press - Monday, May 14, 2012

ST. PAUL, MINN. (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday signed off on a hard-fought agreement to build the Minnesota Vikings a $975 million stadium at the downtown Minneapolis site of the team’s current home, the Metrodome.

With team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf looking on, Dayton signed the bill to mostly cheers, whistles and chants of `Skol, Vikings,’ the NFL team’s fight song. However, one protester yelled “Shame on you! Shame on you!” as the governor put pen to paper _ underscoring the strong opposition by some critics who said taxpayers shouldn’t have to shoulder so much of the cost of the new venue.

“This is what makes Minnesota special,” Dayton said before signing the bill, noting that Minneapolis-St. Paul is the smallest of a dozen metropolitan areas with all four major league sports teams.

The team hopes to move into the new stadium by 2016.

The Vikings will pay just under half the cost of the $975 million project. The state of Minnesota and city of Minneapolis will share the remainder.

State lawmakers approved the bill last week out of concern that the team might leave the state unless it got a new stadium. The Vikings will sign a 30-year lease.

Business and labor leaders attended the ceremony, in a nod to the thousands of construction jobs that Dayton touted as he pushed for the stadium, as well as workers in hardhats and some Vikings fans.

It attracted a few protesters carrying signs, too: “Why not get this fired up to stop poverty” read one. Many legislators had argued against spending public money on the stadium. The state’s share is to be financed through taxes on new electronic versions of pulltabs, a low-tech paper game sold by charitable organizations in bars and restaurants.

Dayton’s signature isn’t quite the last formality for the stadium. The Minneapolis City Council must still give final approval to its share of the cost, with a vote expected later this month. The city is redirecting an existing hospital tax.

Still, the Wilfs have already begun mulling the stadium design. Zygi Wilf’s fondness for outdoor football is well known, and in an interview with The Associated Press last week he appeared to be leaning toward a retractable roof that could restore a wintry element to Vikings games that was lost when the team left old Metropolitan Stadium for the Metrodome in 1982. The team would have to pay the cost of such a roof, and it’s not clear how much that would be.

The Wilfs said they wanted a plaza with plenty of open space for fans to gather.

The Vikings pursued a stadium for more than a decade, but had little leverage until their lease at the Metrodome expired this past year. The Wilfs never threatened to move the team, but the Vikings were frequently mentioned as a potential fit for the vacant Los Angeles market. Still, the stadium legislation championed by Dayton appeared to be dying this spring before an April visit by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell resurrected it.